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Monday, 4 February, 2002, 17:38 GMT
Political partners: Are they entitled to speak out?
Downing Street has insisted that despite Cherie Blair's rising public profile, she still refuses to give interviews.

The prime minister's wife has been invited to open what is believed to be the world's largest Indian food factory in Lancashire, but she will not speak publicly at the event.

Her decision to stay silent contrasts markedly to the public stance taken last November by Mrs Blair and US first lady Laura Bush, when the two leaders' wives launched an awareness campaign to highlight the plight of Afghan women under the Taleban.

But a number of previous high profile forays by leaders' spouses into the political arena have ended in embarrassment, most notably for now US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her healthcare reform crusade famously received less than lukewarm treatment and prompted a political u-turn by her husband.

Are political partners entitled to step into the political spotlight and speak out on important issues? If so, what role should they have? Or do you think they should stay in the background?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Cherie Blair should know better than to take advantage of her position

Helen, UK
Cherie Blair should know better than to take advantage of her position. She must be aware that as the prime minister's wife, she carries enormous authority yet she is unconcerned about taking on lucrative court cases.
Helen, UK

Women are much more sympathetic than men, so now they must use their powerful positions to help the Afghan women as best they can. We look forward to their continued support and help.
Khaaled Hamza, Nengarhar, Afghanistan

If they want to speak publicly about matters of state then maybe they should become MPs. Then they can be held accountable for their actions or inactions.
Ison, UK

Mrs Blair only speaks on the appropriate subject at the appropriate time. She is more of a humanitarian than a politician. It shows she is not trigger-happy and eager to fire at the slightest moment. That is expected of a lady. Respect must be given to her. In fact, to be a wife of a statesman is not easy - she has to maintain her poise and dignity at all times.
Simon Tay, Singapore

It is a form of censorship not to let them speak out and if people confuse their views with the opinions of their political spouses then that is a problem for the public not for the spouse.
Caroline, UK

Eleanor Roosevelt was a forthright supporter of gender and race equality

Oliver, UK
I believe a politician's spouse can be a balancing influence to their partner. They can often take on issues too politically charged for leaders. For example, Eleanor Roosevelt was a forthright supporter of gender and race equality when Franklin D Roosevelt was not in a position to act directly.
Oliver, UK

They are not entitled to take advantage to give their opinions a higher profile

Alan, UK
The partners of elected officials are as entitled to personal opinions as anyone else in the country. They are not entitled to take advantage of their partner's status to give their opinions a higher profile than would otherwise have been possible. If they feel strongly enough about the issues, then let them pursue their own political careers. It is inappropriate for them to be coerced into expressing politically motivated "opinions" by their partner's spin-doctors. Cherie Blair's comments during the early part of the Afghanistan conflict would appear to be a clear case of the latter. Fortunately, it would appear to be an error of judgement that she is in no hurry to repeat.
Alan, UK

Spare us - one Blair is enough - but then he'd sell his granny to get a vote.
Mairi M Scotland

The audience decides for itself how much notice they will take - I would pay more attention to a political statement by Hillary Clinton than by Dennis Thatcher.
Steve Hodgson, UK

Booth's an intelligent and educated woman and I listen to what she has to say

Jenny Radcliffe, Durham, UK
Any person is free to express opinions - that's free speech. Any journalist is free to report on people saying things - that's a free press. We can decide whether we think it's important enough to pay attention to - that's using your brain.
I think Cherie Booth's an intelligent and educated woman and I'm quite prepared to listen to what she has to say. It's got nothing to do with who she's married to. Hillary Clinton, the same. With Laura Bush, I'm less convinced, but that's no reason to say she shouldn't say anything.
Jenny Radcliffe, Durham, UK

It's not the done thing for partners of MPs to have a say in politics. Quite simply, because we vote for the MPs, not their relatives!
Michelle, UK

Mrs Blair and Mrs Bush can generate attention to worthy causes

Wahid Ezaty, Australia
Political partners should voice their opinion on issues that concern the public. Partners have an influence in policy making and the in the general approach of the leader. Playing a civic role could help the public in understanding the figure in focus and greatly increase the public's awareness of what goes on. Women like Mrs Blair and Mrs Bush can use their profiles to generate attention to worthy causes such as women's rights and the disadvantaged. This would improve the popularity and image of their husbands.
Wahid Ezaty, Australia

The two of them are complete hypocrites. They both protested about the way women's rights were being denied under the Taleban, but they were perfectly happy to ignore the plight of homosexuals, whose treatment was far worse - but that didn't fit in with their husbands' policies on human rights. Human rights are for everybody and if they can't see that they should just shut up.
Martin C, UK

She should make herself accountable through public interview

Steve B, Scotland
Opinion was divided last time Cherie Blair spoke out, over the plight of Afghan women. If she is going to insist on making pronouncements on public affairs, whether justifiably or not, the least she should do is make herself accountable through public interview. Otherwise she should shut up completely.
Steve B, Scotland

Of course she should be allowed to give interviews, if she wishes to do so. As a QC, she already plays a high-powered public role. She should speak from this position - not as Blair's wife but as a high-powered legal professional in her own right.
Michael Entill, UK

I think they should be chained to the kitchen sink and be the homemaker for their illustrious world leader.
Paul M, US

Cherie Blair should have the right to speak out on any issue as she clearly chooses. This argument has a lot more to do with the commercial desires of the media than any moral issue over freedom of speech or the public's right to know.
Blewyn, UK

Hillary Clinton created significant problems in healthcare

Di Stewart, US
Hillary Rodham Clinton, through her spousal meddling, created significant problems in healthcare in this country. It is one thing for a spouse to speak on behalf of a charity or a social programme, but it's definitely not on to speak publicly about anything in the political arena. We elect their partners, and I do not believe in the "two for one" scenario. Presidential spouses may be highly qualified in their chosen field and very well educated, but because of their spouse's position, any opinions they render can have significant impact as to how a country is perceived. I do believe Ms. Blair is doing the right thing.
Di Stewart, US

I'm convinced that any opinion expressed by Mrs Blair will feed the paranoia of Labour's opponents. I remember the newspapers' onslaught on Glenys Kinnock as they attempted to undermine her husband. As long as Mrs Blair is not involving herself in the Parliamentary process then she should speak out whenever she feels it appropriate.
Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK

If she was a hairdresser no-one would care for her opinion

Tony, UK
If she was a hairdresser no-one would care for her opinion (no offence meant to hairdressers!) so if she wants to speak publicly let her earn the right herself.
Tony, UK

She is as entitled as anyone else to free speech, so long as we remember she speaks as Mrs C Blair QC and not as Mrs Prime Minister (unelected).

Cherie Blair couldn't do any worse than Tony

Mark Blackburn, Essex, UK
I think they should speak out. They are very important figures in our society. I'm sure Cherie Blair couldn't do any worse than Tony.
Mark Blackburn, Essex, UK

Are important global leaders' wives politicians? No. There's your answer.
Ed Griffiths, Cardiff, Wales

I didn't vote for Cherie Blair and neither did anyone else. We should only have out elected representatives speak out.
Tom, UK

They are supposed to take a back seat and that's how it should remain. It's not as though Mrs Blair is the prime minister, is it? I'm sure she is busy enough in her role as a barrister.
Chris Gower, London, England

See also:

01 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Cherie urged to speak up
01 Feb 02 | England
Pull of the poppadoms for Cherie
19 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Cherie Blair backs Afghan women
16 Nov 01 | UK Politics
First ladies back Afghan women

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