BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK: Politics  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
N Ireland
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Friday, 14 September, 2001, 06:11 GMT 07:11 UK
Stark contrasts of the 'first wives'
Cherie Blair and Elizabeth Duncan Smith
With the election of the new Conservative leader the contrast between the 'first lady' of British politics - Cherie Blair - and her 'shadow' has become starker.

Cherie Blair is seen as the archetypal modern mother - juggling the demands of four children, a top flight career as barrister and life alongside a globe-trotting prime minister.

She's totally absorbed in her husband and the family

Mrs Duncan Smith's mother
Elizabeth - 'Betsy' - Duncan Smith is seen as the archetypal Tory wife - able to boast aristocratic breeding, good looks and an unstinting devotion to family.

Betsy, 42-years-old and a distant cousin of Diana, Princess of Wales, takes on her unofficial 'shadow' role with even less public recognition than her husband Iain.

'Sounding board' role

Mr Duncan Smith apparently uses her as a sounding board, insisting she would have had the last word as he mulled over launching a leadership bid.

"If she had said 'No', it wouldn't happen," he said.

Yet her mother, Lady Cottesloe, says she is "certainly not political".

Derek Mullett, party chair in her husband's Chingford constituency says: "She's very loyal and she supports Iain whenever she can in constituency functions but she's not political in the sense that she won't make a speech. She'll leave it to him."

She also takes him down a peg or two

Friend of Mrs Duncan Smith
So, like many fellow Tory wives, diary secretary to her husband is about as close to a hands-on political role as she seems to get.

Betsy puts housework at their Fulham home and caring for the children - Edward, 14, Alicia, 12, Harry, 11, and Rosanna, 8 - top of the list of priorities.

"She's totally absorbed in her husband and the family," Lady Cottesloe says.

"They are her whole life, and I don't even think she has any hobbies."

But according to family, friends and her husband she is no mute and passive politician's wife

'Tremendously calm'

"She makes sure he always has a home to come back to that's warm and welcoming, but she also takes him down a peg or two," said one friend earlier in the leadership campaign.

"He's never allowed to get above himself. She's the sort of person who would be very good in a crisis - tremendously calm."

And Betsy has even made sure taking his turn on the school run has not been above Mr Duncan Smith when he was shadow defence secretary.

She is the daughter of life peer Lord Cottesloe, a former commander in the Royal Navy and ex-Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire.

Harrods work

Schooled at St Mary's, Wantage, she moved on to Stowe school for her A-levels but left at 17 to work in Harrods and then as a secretary.

Through life in the same military circles, she met her husband at a London party and in 1982 they married, when she was 23, and their first child was born five years later.

That background stands in contrast the prime minister's wife who, born in 1954, was brought up in a working class, Roman Catholic family in the north west of England.

Cherie earned a first in her law degree at the London School of Economics and came top of her year in the bar exams.

Labour supporter

She met Tony while they were both training to be barristers.

An active supporter of the Labour Party, it has been said Tony stepped up his involvement with the party to impress her.

Mrs Blair fought and lost the no-hope seat of Thanet North in Kent at the 1983 general election.

And now in her job as a barrister specialising in employment law, she works under her maiden name, Cherie Booth.


Winner and loser



Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

E-mail this story to a friend

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |