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Thursday, December 23, 2004
If personality is pertinent in this case ...

Over at the always interesting, debate is ongoing about what electoral effect the Kennedy baby is likely to have. The first child of the Liberal Democrat leader is due to be born in the middle of the next General Election campaign, if the universally expected polling day of 5 May 2005 is confirmed.

Many people reading this will remember similar discussion around the time of Leo Blair's birth. The thinking is that such news will portray the father in a positive light, and actually alter the result of the election in his favour. At the time, these assumptions were so strong that, as Andrew Rawnsley has noted with amusement, many were convinced that an obviously accidental pregnancy was a cynical electoral ploy. The possibility of a Hague baby being born in response was jokingly discussed in the media - and at times not jokingly.

I'm rather sceptical of this sort of view of elections. It's very easy loftily to assume that other people will be influenced by such things, while of course laughing off the idea that one will be oneself. I suspect that, rather than a genuine warming to the Prime Minister after his wife gave birth a fourth time, is the main explanation for the prevailing view of the political potential of pregnancy. Exactly which seats changed hands in 2001 because of Leo Blair? I'm sure he's a fine young lad, but I don't think a single man or woman is now a Member of Parliament because he was born.

What is interesting to me is how incongruent this prevailing view that such aspects of personalities matter to voters is with the new fashionable attitude to politicians' personal morality. Boris Johnson and David Blunkett are involved in adultery and all its associated dishonesty, and the most commonly voiced reaction to these particular revelations was that people don't care about such things any longer, do not see them as relevant to ability to do the job, are not looking for saints, and do not expect better behaviour. Therefore, for them to be resignation issues makes no tactical sense - it's not something voters care about.

But when the wives of Tony Blair and Charles Kennedy become pregnant, suddenly we hear that people are deeply interested - that by such personal issues votes are indeed won, lost and swung.

By no standards is having a pregnant wife a significant or unusual character statement. In a political climate where this is nonetheless seen as a considerable popular boost, it's simply not good enough to say that people don't care about adultery, personal betrayal and all its associated dishonesty, without so much as making reference to that wider climate and perspective. If having a child matters to voters, having a mistress must, too.

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