When I was growing up in the 70s, just after the Boer War, everyone assumed that the first female prime minister would be a Labour one. The Tories were scared of strong women, the reasoning went, comfortable with them only as wives and secretaries, and preferably both at the same time. Yes, the first handbag at Number Ten would without doubt be red.
So imagine the equally red faces all round when, in 1979, true blue Margaret Thatcher was elected as the first female P.M. Weren't the Tories scared of strong women? On the contrary, it turned out. The more she stood up to every man who displeased her, both home and abroad, the more the Tories loved her. And the Labour Party were left trying to work out why they had passed over Labour women of ability, such as Barbara Castle and Shirley Williams, for a bumbling clown like Callaghan.
It highlighted a tendency that the Left has always pretended was a weakness of the Right - silliness about sex, both in the gender and the phwooar meanings of the word. Margaret Thatcher was often accused of being "in love" with Ronald Reagan; one pathetic poster portrayed them as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara, him scooping her up in his arms. "She promised to follow him to the ends of the earth: he said that could easily be arranged!" scaremongered the slogan. "Mrs Thatcher - you love Ronnie, you do!" sneered "socialist" pop stars from their tax exile in Switzerland. It was all rather sickening. And that was even before you saw the comrades with their DITCH THE BITCH banners.
Women do seem to find it easier to make progress in parties of the Right, from the British Tories to the French National Front. It goes against all logic, but there it is. Cherie Blair and Glenys Kinnock were thought to be every bit as political and ambitious as their husbands - but they were content to remain gooey-eyed eye-candy. Hillary Clinton wasted the prime of her political life trailing around after her hound of a husband; now another intellectual Democratic wife, Michelle Obama, does the same. But Condoleeza Rice, Sarah Palin and now Michele Bachmann have all cut a swathe through the Republican Party in the U.S.
It's embarrassing that even in France, where women didn't get the vote until 1946, there are so many high-profile female politicians who have come to prominence under the Sarkozy government. And what do we have here? Sam Cam and the Mrs Milibands standing by their men - yet again.
I feel that it must be the dead hand of British modesty which prevents the rise of maverick female politicians. Maybe they saw the level of abuse dealt out to Mrs T and their delicate little souls can't stand the thought of being called nasty names. Still, when the next female political star does rise over this exhausted, despairing land, I bet you anything she'll come from the Right and not the Left.
Because as we have seen so many times - DSK molesting maids, Ken Livingstone jumping into bed with mad mullahs who would happily reduce the rights of women to ashes - when politicians and their parties tick the box that says Brotherhood of Man, they seem to believe that they can treat women however badly they please.
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