In spite of a record number of female parliamentary candidates, the 2010 general election campaign became notable for the intensity of coverage given to the female spouses of the three main party leaders. We find that this resulted from a combination of party communication strategy, established media discourses, and the agency and visibility of the wives themselves. First, Labour and the Conservatives were the most prominent in integrating their leaders' wives into their campaigns, often to counter the less marketable qualities of the leaders themselves. Second, while mainstream media outlets—particularly newspapers—sought to cover all three women, they did so drawing upon established gender-based conventions, focussing on the wives' physical appearance and apparent dedication to their husbands. Third, while the wife of the Liberal Democrat leader opted for limited and strategic contact with media, the wives of the Conservative and Labour leaders exploited a range of new media platforms, combining official party websites, personal blogs, and webcasts. We argue that any assessment of the role of the spouses of party leaders has to look at media-driven priorities only alongside the various strategies open to parties and individuals in managing media activities. We also suggest that there is scope to use the coverage of leaders' spouses to explore the development, limits, and gender politics of any shift toward presidentialism.
- political spouses
- general election