Voting reform needed to deal with leaders’ wives

UPDATE: It has just got even worse. Samantha Cameron is pregnant, with atrocious timing. A “bump” in the polls to come, no doubt. But even less chance of a proper debate about the election.

Forget trying to spot policies, stop worrying about who has lied the most, or whether your favourite council-funded childcare/education/dance therapy service is about to be scrapped to pay for the financial collapse. Britain’s election is all about leaders’ wives.

All three have been paraded in front of the TV cameras, with the past weekend finally seeing Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, the Spanish wife of Nick Clegg, joining the race to see who can best wow the nation. The media lapped it up, with interminable debates about what the role of wives should be in the election, alongside long profiles.

The Mail on Sunday went one further, digging up a “fashion” shoot with Samantha Cameron, wife of the Conservative leader, which the Telegraph this morning chose to put on the front page. What did we learn? Someone thinks the pictures might make people vote Tory. The editors of the two papers rather fancy her. And, wierdly, she appears to be wearing a 1970s sheepskin car coat back-to-front in one of the pictures. But nothing more significant.

However, judging by the time spent discussing her choice of position and clothing, and the incessant media attention given to the wives, election reform is obviously needed. Even those most obsessed with Sam, Miriam and Sarah would accept that the choice of wife probably shouldn’t be the basis for choice of person to run the country through its worst financial crisis in generations.

There is a solution: an additional voting box should be added to ballot sheets, to allow voters to express their preference for which leader’s wife they think would be best in 10 Downing Street. This could equally be done through a dial-in voting system, which would have the advantage of raising some cash to pay down the national debt.

Whether the wives would abide by the result of the poll matters not: it would allow voters to focus their real vote on the problems the country actually faces. Now, if the parties could just explain what they plan to do about that, we could get on with showing that democracy is better than, say, tyranny.

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Christopher Cook is an FT editorial writer. Before joining the FT in 2008 as a Peter Martin Fellow, he worked for three years for the Conservative party.

Lorien Kite is deputy comment editor, a post he took up in 2009 after four years as a commissioning editor on the analysis page. He joined the FT in 2000.

Ian Holdsworth became assistant features editor in 2009 and was previously chief production journalist for the features pages.