Jo-Anne Nadler: From front row at fashion week to a place in the nation's heart

SAMANTHA Cameron has certainly notched up a first. She is the only Conservative woman to have achieved the elusive status of being fashionable.

It is hard to imagine any other woman associated with the Tories being pictured, as she was, in the front row of the designer shows at the recent London Fashion Week.

That she has been embraced by the editors of women's magazines, hailed as a style icon and welcomed into the fashion fold is in part a function of her job as a design director for the luxury stationers and now handbag designers Smythsons.

But it's more than that. Exposure in the press since her husband became Tory leader has revealed a woman with a natural sense of style that other women combining careers and motherhood admire and aspire to. She seems effortlessly elegant, quietly casual, and a naturally attractive woman a world away from the helmet hairdos and power suits that have made up the staple look of Conservative womanhood since Margaret Thatcher's leadership.

It is not hard to see why Conservative image-makers consider Samantha Cameron a great asset. According to the polls, David Cameron has always been rather more popular than his party, and his personal appeal, very much based on being a strong family man, is enhanced by the presence of Samantha.

Their marriage seems strong and devoted, a model for conventional Tory supporters, yet also thoroughly modern, with each partner having a demanding career to balance with home life.

Anyone who might have dismissed Samantha Cameron as a pretty but privileged blue-blood (her lineage is rather more aristocratic than David's) with no sense of the real world would have had to reconsider when the Camerons' severely disabled son, Ivan, died so young last year.

To have managed a demanding life while Ivan needed constant care must have been hard enough and then having to appear in public composed while still grieving must have won her admiration as well as sympathy.

So, as a person Samantha Cameron reflects well on her husband and his party. But more than that, she embodies the values Conservative modernisers would like voters to associate with their rebranded party.

In a sense, David Cameron's purpose has been to transform his party with a make-over so that its new persona is something like that of his wife's and so that women like her, all over the country, would feel comfortable about voting Conservative again.

&#149 Jo-Anne Nadler is a former senior press officer for the Conservative Party. She is author of Too Nice to be a Tory and the biography of William Hague.