Being the wife of the Prime Minister is not an easy role. I feel quite sympathetic to Cherie Blair in the blizzard of criticism she recently attracted.
Poor Mrs Blair, in an offthe-cuff remark, said in the presence of Queen Rania of Jordan, that Palestinian suicide bombers must feel driven by hopelessness in carrying out their terrible deeds. When I saw the television clip in which she made this remark, I thought the context was perfectly understandable. Cherie was doing what women often try to do — to identify with someone else, to strive for some sort of consensus, perhaps even to please the Queen of Jordan. It was not a heavy-duty major political statement, and she has taken a disproportionate media savaging for something which quite obviously came from a sense of maternal compassion.
Are we human beings, or are we savages? I believe that Winston Churchill asked this question, after viewing a film of the fire-bombing of Dresden, a pretty medieval town of no military significance. No one had fought more ardently against Adolf Hitler's Germany than he, and yet, he had the humanity to feel shame and misery to see what was being done to defeat Hitler. A man, or a woman, can express compassion and humanity, even feel a sense of identification with a misguided idealist, without endorsing a political principle.
I don't think that Mrs Blair was, actually, correct — in the analytical sense of the word — in saying that suicide bombers are driven by hopelessness. De Toqueville established that revolutions begin not when people are hopeless and miserable, but when people are beginning to feel more confi rebellion was completely off the agenda in periods of total wretchedness. It occurred in times of rising expecta tions. The Palestin ian suicide bombers are far more likely to feel moved to action by the belief that their people are within sight of winning, and their martyrdom will move the goalposts nearer. They are also bribed by large cash gifts to their families from the likes of Saddam Hussein.
But even if Mrs Blair is wrong, she is entitled to appearing on balconies and shrieking rhetoric. She is simply showing that she has feelings, like everyone else, and it would be an unbearably austere society in which the spouse of the elected political leader had to conduct herself — or himself — like an automaton.
Cherie Blair is, of course, suspected of having a more left-wing agenda than her husband — which wouldn't be hard, considering that Tony is now regarded as the most skilful Conservative leader in years. Cherie is observed yawning at a royal funeral, and described as reluctant to curtsey to the monarch. She is also a successful, and indeed quite rich, lawyer — her earnings are probably in the region of £300,000 a year — who has specialised in human rights areas, which some think a bit dodgy, particularly where, for example, lesbian couples are demanding the same connubial privileges as married couples. Cherie has quite a lot stacked up against her, one way and another (hatred and envy of rich lawyers is widespread) and her every utterance will be jumped on all the more swiftly because of the rest of her curriculum vitae.
Yet in many ways, Mrs Blair is an admirable person. Until I saw that TV clip with Queen Rania, I realised that I had never before heard her speaking voice — which shows how reticent she has been, verbally. She has managed a rather good balancing act between motherhood, private life, working life and her bona fide duties as the PM's consort. She had an extremely difficult childhood, growing up in a singleparent household after her hell-raising father, the actor Tony Booth, had abandoned the family. The nuns who taught her at St Edmund's Primary School in Liverpool have said she was a delightful and diligent child who worked quietly away, despite the disadvantages of her home life.
She is obviously a perfectly decent person whose compassion speaks well for her. It is not necessary to agree with her private political convictions to think, in response for heaven's sake, give the woman a break!
S"Bad luck," I said to my husband when England lost in the world cup. "You must be disappointed."
"Yes," he said. "But the best team won." Now that is what I call a sporting attitude, and I'm glad that it still exists.
After all, when the final whistle sounds, what matters is not whether you won or whether you lost, but how you played the game: metaphor of life and all that.