Career-juggling at Britain's 10 Downing Street
Cherie blair, wife of Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, has been something of an icon for "have it all" working women, not only in Britain, but the world over.Skip to next paragraph
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A highly successful lawyer, she earns twice her husband's salary. Two days before giving birth to their fourth child, Leo, in May (at age 45), she was arguing in court for Britain to bring parental leave laws in line with more generous European Union standards. And she raised eyebrows by publicly prodding her husband to take time off to help care for the newborn.
With a general election due next year, Mrs. Blair's prominence is making her a target for opposition Conservatives. John Bercow declared Aug. 7, "People in Britain will not put up with anyone who thinks she can be an unaccountable cross between first lady and Lady Macbeth." Mr. Bercow, a senior party spokesman was speaking with the open support of Conservative leader William Hague. He accused Mrs. Blair of interfering in - maybe even trying to shape - key government policies. He also suggested that she stands to benefit financially from them.
It's the kind of vitriolic attack familiar to another successful lawyer married to a prominent politician - Hillary Clinton.
Far from shrinking from the political limelight, Mrs. Clinton is running for office herself, seeking to represent New York in the Senate.
Both women are setting new standards for the traditional political spouse.
Norma Major, wife of the former Conservative premier, loathed publicity and spent much of her time writing books about opera singers. Margaret Thatcher's husband, Denis, was never heard to utter a political sentiment within earshot of reporters.
Debate over social roles
Mrs. Blair, by sharp contrast, is a high-profile public figure in her own right, known to harbor ambitions of an eventual judgeship. Now, Bercow's scathing remarks put her at the epicenter of a row over the rights and roles of women in British society and politics.
According to political analyst Michael White, the dispute reveals "a deep rift in attitudes towards women" between the Labour Party and Conservatives. He says the rift is "reflected in the composition of Parliament."
Labour currently has more than 100 female members of the House of Commons, compared with the Conservatives' 14.
Conservative women say they find it difficult to persuade constituency associations to adopt them as candidates for Parliament. Labour women, meanwhile, have benefited from their party's policy of encouraging constituency associations to choose female candidates.
Mr. Blair has been lagging with female voters, however. A senior Conservative Party official says, "Earlier this year, Tony Blair was booed at a meeting of the Women's Institute, and badly needs to improve his standing with female voters. Obviously Cherie is trying to help him."
Bercow, dubbed "Rottweiler" by Conservative friends for his aggressive style, remains unrepentant over his remarks. He says Mrs. Blair "suffers from 'a Hillary syndrome,' " and "forgets that in Britain we already have a first lady - the queen."