By JAMILA RIZVI
Last week Margie Abbott – wife of the man most-likely to be our next Prime Minister – entered the political fray.
Australia woke up to happy Abbott family snaps gracing the front pages of our newspapers, over our breakfast bowl of muesli Tony and Margie Abbott were welcomed onto the brightly coloured couches of our morning television shows and next, came a speech that was as overworked and carefully crafted as they come.
The media watched the couple’s every move, crying out that this was an act, a show, a set up, a carefully crafted media blitz. The public followed suit – we’re smarter than that, we won’t be fooled by this, we won’t be sucked in, we know a political stunt when we see one.
This was a stunt writ large. Margie Abbott’s fierce defence of her husband’s ‘softer side’ and ‘approach to women’ would have been intricately planned out by political staff, weeks if not months in advance.
But all the cynicism in the world doesn’t mean the stunt won’t work. Because this stunt has something going for it that trumps its own contrived nature: an authentic, believable and honest central character.
Margie Abbott stepped into the character of kind hearted, hard working, warm wife and mother; a little media shy, slightly nervous and passionately defensive of her husband’s good character and ability to lead.
She was believable because none of it was an act. The character was her own. Just like my mum would give you a pretty glowing referee report if you called her to ask if I should be given a gig… Unsurprisingly the people who love us, think highly of us and our abilities.
Yet in this, Margie can play a role that no member of Abbott’s shadow cabinet can – the role of genuinely thinking Tony is the best person for the job. Because unlike most members of the shadow cabinet, she doesn’t want the job herself.
All the things that make the public wary of those vying for high public office – the overly rehearsed speeches, the masked ambition, the practiced ability to dodge a question, the media training designed to mold the person into exactly what the public supposedly wants to see – Margie doesn’t have that.
She’s new at this. She’s just being a spouse like any other, who is doing what she can to support her partner to get ahead in his career. And political stunt or not – why shouldn’t she?
If you were given the opportunity to do something a little outside your comfort zone to help your partner get ahead in their career – would you do it? If you could do something that cost you nothing to help someone you love make a lifelong dream come true – would you do it? Of course you would.
It’s important to remember that is it not unusual for the spouse of a politician vying for the Prime Ministership to become a public figure. Even in Australia.
In the lead up to the 1972 election. Margaret Whitlam wrote a column for Woman’s Day, she appeared on a panel show called Beauty and the Beast and once Gough was elected she was a regular on television and radio news. Therese Rein and her family featured heavily in Kevin Rudd’s 2007 campaign for the Lodge, as Labor attempted to contrast this modern and energetic young couple with the older John and Janette Howard.
Once elected the Prime Minister’s partner plays a significant role in public life. They are expected to speak at major functions, to serve as a figurehead for a variety of organisations, to be a spokesperson for charities and to welcome and entertain an endless run of guests in their home.