An Open Letter To HRH The Duchess Of Cambridge

Women are devoting increasing amounts of time to their "birth day" appearance. Please don't give in to the trend, ma'am.

Ma’am,

We have tried here, at the New Statesman, to afford you a certain amount of privacy as you incubate a future monarch. Not all news outlets have been so circumspect. There has been adulatory speculation about how the million-pound nursery at Apartment 1A, Kensington Palace might be furnished. We’ve seen reports about the Royal birthing playlist, featuring rather less whalesong than one might imagine, and a good deal more Bruno Mars, Calvin Harris and Of Monsters and Men.

The advent of a new Royal has even been used as the hook for stories about a growing trend for a delivery room beauty régime. How new mothers, who might reasonably be expected to be preoccupied with the non-trivial business of pushing an entire human being out of their bodies, are now devoting an increasing amount of time to their "birth day" appearance. Apparently this is so that pictures of the new baby in its mothers’ arms are fit for posterity.

I am dead, dead, against this. For a number of reasons.

1. I think we as a society should learn to accept that what women really look like is actual women. Not creatures who have created a tabula rasa on the front of their heads with foundation and then sketched an idealised portrait of the popular actress Megan Fox on it using makeup. I don’t want to oppress anyone. If someone wants to do that for fun, once in a while, perhaps on a night out, that’s fine by me. But making it the daily standard sounds like a bit of a faff. Asking people to do that when they’re already doing the least relaxing things any human being can conceivably do seems, at the very best, to be an unrealistic expectation.

2. Childbirth is a stressful and, still in the twenty-first century, often dangerous process. If there’s time available for eyebrow reshaping or artful photographic lighting, that is time that could be used into doing things that make the new Mother safer, more comfortable, and less likely to blow a mental gasket. I have never given birth. Nor, unless there are some substantial scientific discoveries in the next few decades, am I likely to. But I’ve seen it done. It looks difficult, painful and a touch frightening. The happiest births are ones with the minimum personnel in the room. Mum, obviously. Dad, ideally. Baby, eventually. It’s nice to have a Midwife or other experienced professional on hand just in case things turn a bit tricky. I would contend that adding Gok Wan to the mix for some labour-day beauty tips is exactly the kind of over manning that crippled Britain’s industrial base and not at all the best working practice for childbirth.

3. All men know that, no matter what kind of person their wife or partner was before the birth, they will suddenly morph into some kind of all-knowing parenting sage as soon as the placenta hits the tiles. While men and women are roughly equal in terms of knowledge and usefulness, Mums are ineffably wiser than Dads when it comes to child-rearing. As a Dad myself, I find that more than a bit annoying. That last picture of the woman we love, in extremis, at her lowest ebb, slicked with sweat and other miscellaneous unnameable fluids, is all fathers have to cling to as our status and influence ebbs away and we become that hapless Dad in every TV advert ever.

If the Duchess Of Cambridge were to give in to this regrettable trend, we’d know about it soon enough. And what the Royals do today, despite our pretensions to a meritocratic society, the rest of us will be doing tomorrow. Or, in the next nine months at least.

We’ve seen inflation of expectation in all sorts of areas; weddings, school proms, baby showers. Life events that we used to celebrate on a shoestring until a celebrity started the ball rolling in the direction of unsustainable expense.

Photos of a perfectly-groomed new mother on the front page of every newspaper will just lead to more unrealistic expectation. Expectation which will inevitably lead to shattered self-esteem for new parents across the realm.

Your Royal Highness, if you’re reading this — and I accept that you may be a trifle too busy at the moment — please don’t look your best today.

Yours,

Michael

Don't saddle us with unrealistic expectations. Photograph: Getty Images

Michael Moran is the television columnist for the Lady magazine and the creator of the literary spoof “100 Books I'll Never Write".

Graham Brady illustration
Show Hide image

Tory backbench leader Graham Brady: “When we vote to leave the EU, the PM should stay”

As chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady is a king among Tory backbenchers. So what does the ardent Eurosceptic make of David Cameron’s prospects in the EU referendum – and afterwards?

Enter Graham Brady’s office and you are treated to a magnificent panoramic view of the Palace of Westminster and Parliament Square. It is an appropriately grand vantage point for one of the most influential MPs. As the chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, Brady is an essential barometer of Tory opinion. In recognition of this, he was one of the first guests to No 10 Downing Street in the hours following David Cameron’s general election victory. A prime minister with a majority of 12 – the smallest of any single-party government since October 1974 – must take permanent heed of his backbenchers.

I met Brady, 48, shortly before the start of Prime Minister’s Questions on 10 February. Among Conservative MPs below us in Portcullis House, there remained only one topic of discussion: Europe. Cameron’s draft agreement with the EU has failed to persuade many Eurosceptics that they should vote in favour of membership of the Union when the referendum is likely held on 23 June. Brady, who entered parliament in 1997 as the MP for Altrincham and Sale West, is one of those who intends to campaign for withdrawal.

“There is a very long-term problem that there is a massive difference between what Britain thought it was joining – the European Economic Community – and what it actually was joining,” he said. “There was no appetite or decision to join a political Europe . . . That is something that has always needed to be resolved in some way and I think the more the eurozone, in particular, integrates with the continuing crisis, the more we will have to see massive political and fiscal integration and probably, still, the departure of some of the weaker eurozone countries. As that process goes on, the United Kingdom has got to redefine its relationship in a meaningful way.”

In advance of the European Council summit in Brussels on 18-19 February, he warned that Cameron’s renegotiations had fallen far short. “The reforms that are being sought by the Prime Minister, while all welcome changes, don’t come anywhere near to that fundamental reform of the nature of our relationship with the EU.”

I asked Brady, who was elected to lead the 1922 Committee in 2010, how many of his Conservative colleagues he expected to join him. “It’s very hard to say. I’ve always thought that a clear majority of Conservative members of parliament are deeply unhappy about the shape of the current European Union. And probably a clear majority would have a preference of leaving the EU as it is today. I suspect that roughly 100 will declare that they’re campaigning for Britain to leave. But many more will be very sympathetic to that objective.”

His estimate of 100 is notably higher than the 50 to 70 predicted by Steve Baker, the co-chairman of Conservatives for Britain.

In recent weeks, Eurosceptics have complained as pro-EU cabinet ministers have campaigned for membership while front-bench opponents have remained “gagged”. Brady told me it was “not unreasonable” for Cameron to force them to abide by collective responsibility until the renegotiation had concluded. But, he added: “What is important is that once the deal is done things should be brought to a conclusion as rapidly as possible. I hope there will be a cabinet meeting, if not on the Friday after the Prime Minister returns, then on the Saturday morning, [so] that the cabinet can agree its collective position and also agree that those who don’t share that view are free to say so and free to campaign.”

Some MPs expect as few as five cabinet members to support EU withdrawal (Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Priti Patel, Theresa Villiers and John Whittingdale) although others remain hopeful of persuading Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to join them. “I hope that everybody who is really committed to Britain’s future as a free, independent democracy will realise this is a key decision point,” Brady said.

“There’s no doubt that if Boris Johnson were to campaign for Britain to leave it would bring an energy and buzz to the campaign. Of course that would be welcome, and I hope that Michael Gove will resolve his dilemma in the same direction.”

I asked Brady if he was worried by what some Eurosceptics call “the Farage problem”: that the most prominent opponent of EU membership is also the most polarising. “Nigel Farage is very good at what he does,” he said of the Ukip leader. “He’s a very effective communicator with some audiences, so clearly he has a role in the campaign. Given the salience of the issue for him and his party, it would be unreasonable to expect him not to be prominent in the campaign. But he is a Marmite character and I think this is why it’s so important that there should be a wide range of different voices.”

Brady, who had just returned from a breakfast meeting in the City of London, told me that a number of business people have revealed to him that although their “institutional position is firmly that we should remain in the EU . . . privately their view is completely the opposite”.

Two days before we met, Cameron had been accused of “scaremongering” for warning that “the Jungle”, the refugee camp in Calais, could move to Dover in the event of EU withdrawal. Brady told me that the Prime Minister’s remarks were indeed “inaccurate” and that it was “enormously helpful of the French government to point out that it wasn’t going to happen”.

Were Britain to vote to leave the EU, as polls suggest is possible, many Tory MPs on both sides believe that Cameron would have to resign as Prime Minister. But Brady rejected this suggestion. “No. When we vote to leave the European Union I think it is very important that we have a period of stability. I think it would be hugely valuable to have an experienced team in place to deal with the renegotiation, I think it’s actually very important that the Prime Minister should stay.”

I noted that he referred to “when” Britain leaves the EU, suggesting he was confident of victory. “I’m always confident of victory,” he replied with a smile.

Given Cameron’s decision to pre-resign before the election by vowing to serve only two terms, there will be a Conservative leadership contest before 2020. I asked Brady whether, as some have suggested, the members’ ballot should be widened to include more than two candidates.

“The rules are constructed for each contest by the 1922 executive and agreed with the party board. The only stipulation in the constitution of the party is that we should provide ‘a choice’ to the party members. That has always been construed as a choice of two. I can’t see any reason why parliamentary colleagues would wish to reduce their own influence in the process by putting forward a larger field.”

The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has argued that it is essential there be a female candidate (ideally herself). Brady offered her some advice: “I have very fond recollections of a woman leading the Conservative Party. I hope that if Nicky wants to launch her campaign seriously, she’ll talk to me about how we might promote more grammar schools and selective education as one of the ways that we can stimulate real social mobility in the country again – and she’ll have my support.” It was after the then shadow education secretary, David Willetts, argued in 2007 that grammar schools inhibited social mobility that Brady resigned as shadow minister for Europe.

If there is one stipulation that most Conservative members and MPs will make, it is that there be an anti-EU candidate in the field. I asked Brady whether he would consider standing himself.

“I say to people that I’m very happy with being the returning officer for any leadership contest,” he replied. But the man with a better feel for Conservative backbench opinion than any other ended our conversation with this prediction. “I do think it’s very likely that if we put two candidates forward to the party in the country, at least one of them will have been someone who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU.” 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 11 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle