L AST week the Daily Mail saw fit to make a big front page banner splash out of the allegation that Ed Miliband had some other girlfriends before he got married at the age of 41. This news has presumably transformed the voting intentions of anyone whose constituency falls within the Victorian era, or who has been under the impression that Miliband is up for the post of Mother Superior rather than Prime Minister.
The rest of us may be more driven to wonder why a newspaper that generally likes to pick on Miliband, for weaknesses such as being an atheist (a trait he shares with the Mail’s editor, Paul Dacre) and not looking his best in every photo (a trait he shares with pretty much everyone who isn’t a baby polar bear or that woman who married George Clooney) has suddenly decided to emphasise his ability to attract nice ladies. Because, let’s face it, even in a campaign that has specialised in rubbish smears this is truly a smear of striking ineffectuality. Party Leader Has Had Normal If Not Somewhat Modest Level of Sexual Interaction For Grown-Up Person. Man Sometimes Accused Of Being Funny-Looking Has In Fact Done All Right For Himself.
This prurient story does, however, raise the intriguing question of how many sexual partners we should want or expect our leaders to have had. Nick Clegg endured a weird sort of envy-tinged disapproval back in 2008 when he let Piers Morgan weasel out of him that his partners before marriage numbered “no more than 30” – coincidentally also a fair prediction of how many seats his party can hope to retain on May 7. Nigel Farage doesn’t have sex, because he’s just a normal salt-of-the-earth bloke and not one of these fancy out-of-touch sex-having Westminster fat-cat types. David Cameron was presumably delivered to Samantha’s chamber on their wedding night as a blushing novice in a long white gown.
Actually, wait! No! In 2012, the self-same Mail ran a trembly-kneed article about just how many women the “privileged and beautiful” Prime Minister squired around in his younger days, admiringly noting he “went out with some real crackers”, “liked high-born ones” and “never committed until he met future wife Samantha”. The more recent Miliband piece assesses precisely the same behaviour – having a few girlfriends at university – as “caddish”, “questionable”, “ungallant” and “a million miles from the lives of millions of ordinary voters”.
Dear God, am I supposed to admire a politician having had it away a bit before settling down as proof of his dynamism and effectiveness – or regard any degree of historical sexual success as evidence of his unfitness to govern? It’s so confusing! Presumably, the person the Mail really wanted to humiliate, in keeping with its usual editorial policies, is the woman in the piece: Miliband’s wife Justine Thornton, who gave them enough rope with a “simpering” interview to the Daily Mirror about how she quite likes her husband. (Calling the future Prime Minister “beautiful” – I’m not making that up, they really did – and “an expert kisser” is presumably not simpering.) The airing of one’s partner’s sexual history as evidence of his bad character must be one of the least shrug-offable downsides of a set of life circumstances in which one can really picture few upsides – except for all those extra kitchens that seem to come with it.
Whether we regard them as dastardly or dashing, or just fairly normal middle-aged married posh people, one fact of the matter is that Miliband and Cameron are among the last generation of politicians whose pasts will have to be pieced together via grainy old pictures and interviews with exes. Anyone going into politics from now on will have to contend with the fact that his or her childhood, adolescence and troubled youth are all liable to be documented via smartphone and chronicled on the internet. This will either make revelations about their private lives completely superfluous, because they’ll be much too easy to uncover; or render them far more compelling due to being so voluminous and detailed. Unless you are a sinisterly cautious, permanently self-monitoring user of social media, it only takes one person on your Facebook timeline having an investment in screwing you over some time in the future for masses of potentially compromising material to be copied and pasted and squirrelled away. And if you’re a “digital native” – one young enough not to have known a time without the internet – then you’re likely to have been tracked online, even if only by your embarrassing parents, from long before you might have had any concrete plans to go into a line of work that prohibits you from having a past.
Had there been such overwhelming social media documentation of everything back when our current glorious leaders were still tomcatting about, some awkwardness might have been avoided. Justine could have nipped to the loo and checked Ed’s relationship status on her phone when she met him, instead of being “furious” to discover down the line that he was “secretly” attached. Cameron could have used some sort of Debrett’s app to ensure that he didn’t accidentally date anyone low-born. And Clegg? He could have set up a spreadsheet to keep things in order at particularly busy times.
You may now construct your own jokes about how many more people they might manage to screw – singly or in wild, perverted coalitions – upon attaining a mandate in May. «