That female is Isabel Spearman who was employed as a special adviser to Mr Cameron’s wife, Samantha. Needless to say most reports describe her as Samantha’s stylist and cite her inclusion in the list of names as the ultimate proof of her Cameron demeaning the honours system with his cronyism. How could someone in such a superficial role possibly deserve an honour?
She was no longer in the employ of Samantha Cameron at the time the family left Downing St, but had worked with her for a number of years. This “Girl Friday” reportedly did everything from helping her boss plan her diary, style her hair, and plan her wardrobe. She was reportedly paid around £60,000 (€70,700) annually for her work. It’s peanuts when compared, for example, to the €10,000 French president Francois Hollande spends just on his hair each month.
Cameron’s controversial list also included No 10 Downing St staffers, Conservative Party donors and some of those prominent in the EU Remain campaign. It is standard for an outgoing prime minister to submit an honours resignation list which then goes forward for consideration. I’ve mixed feelings about the British honours system but if they’re handing out gongs anyway — apparently Ms Spearman is in line for an OBE — I think she more than deserves to be included.
It was almost universally acknowledged that Samantha Cameron hardly put a foot wrong during her husband’s term as prime minister. During that time she lost one child (the couple’s elder son Ivan who was profoundly disabled) and gave birth to another (Florence, who is now five). The couple also have two other children. So she had three children, a high-powered job as creative consultant for leather goods company Smythson, and a job as the wife of the prime minister.
I cannot think of a photograph of Samantha Cameron where she looked anything other than impeccably turned out. As well as clearly having an innate sense of style she realised the media would adore nothing more than a photograph of her having a bad hair day or dressed in an ill chosen outfit. Those snaps would have done the rounds repeatedly had they been in existence.
Apparently Isabel Spearman, as part of her brief, used to assist her in packing for trips where she would accompany her husband and the demands of the itinerary would involve a number of outfits for each day for all those state dinners and receptions. She was not the first PM’s wife to have a taxpayer-funded assistant and nor should she have been.
Imagine the furore had Samantha Cameron turned up abroad dressed anything less than impeccably. In fact, if anything, she set a very high standard — last year she won Vanity Fair International Best Dressed — and made an excellent ambassador for British fashion. But just as she more than deserved to have tax-funded assistance with this difficult job, it is important to know that she had help doing it. This work was clearly so appreciated that her husband included Ms Spearman in his honours list. It’s a complete cod to think that someone in her position should perpetuate the superwoman myth — the woman who has it all and does it all — by pretending to do it all on her own and without assistance. This was no vanity appointment but a much needed and wise one.
It is possibly for the best that the new prime ministerial spouse is a man, given the hard act he has to follow. I have seen some token references to the sartorial habits of Theresa’s May’s husband Philip, but it is his wife, not he, who will now be subject to the fashion scrutiny. I would argue that as such she should be entitled to an allowance for not one, but probably two official dressers. It’s no overstatement to say that the entire tone of her premiership could be affected by how the media, and in turn the public, view her wardrobe.
It’s a hard thing to put an amount on, but female politicians must, in general, spend multiple amounts on their wardrobe compared to male colleagues. As they rise through the ranks this figure will rise; almost every day of the year will bring the need for an outfit that could bring you from the opening of a factory to a television debate. I’d argue that senior female ministers, at the very least, deserve a clothing allowance. They probably get a few blowdrys a week too, likely in a city centre salon for convenience — and the cost of that would also add up. I imagine with the sort of public profile they have, even going shopping — time constraints aside — must be a difficulty. Imagine those calls to Liveline about how much money Minister X spent in a boutique yesterday “on just one lousy outfit Joe”. Yes I know we’ve just been through a few very tough austerity years but the people who would be first to criticise the sartorial spending, or the very idea of an allowance, would be lining up to criticise the “state of that woman and what she has on her”. The carping is often, sadly, all the worse from other women. It would appear we are programmed to want to take females in the public realm, be they in politics or soap operas, down a peg or two.
Let’s face it, if it a male minister turned up in the same suit every single day, with a change of shirt and the odd change of tie no one, except those working close to him, would be likely to notice. In fact if he just had three suits and all of them were in the same shade of navy it would never be commented upon. We’ve been looking at Taoiseach Enda Kenny as leader of the country for more than five years now and I couldn’t tell you what colour suit he favours, or whether he prefers a blue shirt to a white one. As leader of our country I do like him to be well turned out, and almost always, in fairness, he certainly is that. But the job of doing that is a far easier, less expensive and less scrutinised task than if he were a female Taoiseach, or the wife of the British prime minister.