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.


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.



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".

Photo: Getty
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Who'll win the Richmond Park by-election?

There are three known unknowns that will decide the contest. 

It’s official: Zac Goldsmith has resigned as the Conservative MP for his Richmond Park seat, and has triggered a by-election there, where he will stand as an independent candidate.

Will it be a two-way or a three-way race?

The big question is whether the contest will be a three way fight between him, the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney, and an official Conservative candidate, or if CCHQ will decide to write the thing off and not field a candidate, making it a two-horse race between Goldsmith and Olney.

There are several Tory MPs who are of the opinion that, given that latitude to disagree on Heathrow has been granted to two Cabinet ministers, Boris Johnson and Justine Greening, similar leeway should be extended to Goldsmith. It’s win-win for Downing Street not to contest it, partly because doing so would put anti-Heathrow MPs, including Johnson and Greening, in an impossible position. Theresa May isn’t averse to putting Johnson in a tricky spot, but Greening was an early supporter of her leadership bid, so her interests come fairly high up the prime ministerial radar.

But the second reason not to contest it is that Goldsmith’s chances of re-election will be put in a serious jeopardy if there is a Tory candidate in the race. Everything from the local elections in May or the Liberal mini-revival since Brexit indicates that in a three-way race, they will start as heavy favourites, and if a three-way race results in a Liberal Democrat win there will be bloodletting.

Although people are talking up Goldsmith’s personal vote, I can find little hard evidence that he has one worth writing home about. His performance in the wards of Richmond Park in the mayoral election was actually a bit worse than the overall Tory performance in London.  (Boris Johnson didn’t have a London seat so we cannot compare like-for-like, but Sadiq Khan did four points better in Tooting than he did across London and significantly outperformed his general election performance there.) He did get a big swing from Liberal to Conservative at the general election, but big swings from the Liberal candidate to the Tory were a general feature of the night, and I’m not wholly convinced, given his performance in Richmond Park in 2016, that it can be laid at Goldsmith’s door.

If he wins, it’ll be because he was the Conservative candidate, rather than through any particular affection for him personally.

But will being the Conservative candidate be enough?

Although on paper, he inherits a healthy majority. So did Robert Courts, the new MP for Witney, and he saw it fall by 19 points, with the Liberal Democrats storming from fourth to second place. Although Goldsmith could, just about, survive a fall of that magnitude, there are reasons to believe it may be worse in Richmond Park than Witney.

The first is that we already know, not just from Witney but from local council by-elections, that the Liberal Democrats can hurt the Conservatives in affluent areas that backed a Remain vote. But in Witney, they barely squeezed the Labour vote, which went down by just over two points, or the Green vote, which went down by just under two points. If in Richmond Park, they can both damage the Tory vote thanks to Brexit and squeeze Labour and the Greens, they will win.

Goldsmith's dog-whistle campaign for the London mayoralty will particularly help squeeze the Labour vote, and thanks to Witney, the Liberal Democrats have a ready-made squeeze message. (In Witney, Green and Labour votes would have been more than enough to elect Liz Leffman, the Liberal candidate.)

But their good performance in Witney and Goldsmith's mayoral result may not be enough on their own.  Ultimately, the contest will come down to the big question that will decide not just the outcome in Richmond Park but the future of the Liberal Democrats.

Have the voters forgiven the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition?

We know that Brexit can help the Liberal Democrats at the direct expense of the Conservatives. What we don’t know is if Brexit is enough to convince 6,000 Labour voters in Bath to vote tactically to get Ben Howlett out in exchange for a Lib Dem, or for 7,500 Labour voters to back a Liberal candidate in Hazel Grove to defeat William Wragg.

One of the reasons why the Liberal Democrats lost votes directly to the Tories in 2015 was fear: of uncertainty and chaos under an Ed Miliband government propped up by the SNP. That factor is less live in a by-election but has been further weakened due to the fact that Brexit – at least as far as Remain-backing Conservatives are concerned – has brought just as much uncertainty and chaos as Miliband and the SNP ever would have.

But the other reason was disgust at the Liberal Democrats for going into coalition with the Conservatives. If they can’t win over enough votes from the parties of the left, we’ll know that the party still has a way to come before we can truly speak of a Liberal revival. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.