Belfast Telegraph

Lindy McDowell: Juggling political leadership with family life is hard... but vitriol Arlene Foster suffers is much worse


Ruth Davidson
Ruth Davidson
Arlene Foster
Under pressure: The Queen has plenty of problems
Lindy McDowell

By Lindy McDowell

It was a man who led to Ruth Davidson, the Conservative MSP, this week resigning as leader of the Tory party in Scotland. Not Boris - although she's not exactly a fan there.

But a wee man with chubby cheeks, a heart-melting smile and the restraint to keep in his nappy what Mr Johnson has been aiming at Brussels.

Finn, the 10-month old son of Ms Davidson and her partner, Jen Wilson, was at the forefront of his mother's mind as she weighed up her decision.

"The party and my work has always come first, often at the expense of commitments to loved ones. The arrival of my son means I now make a different choice."

Ruth Davidson has left as she led - with humanity and openness, spilling her heart about the conflict between giving the job her all, but feeling she was short-changing those she loved.

Her greatest political weapon has always been her warmth. She is a sharer who doesn't hold back about life's hurdles, including the depression she's battled with in the past.

She and Jen are now looking forward to getting married soon.

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Ruth Davidson is that unusual combination of conservative and liberal. She's pithy and principled, but without the coldness that often attends the politically driven.

It's a potent and attractive mix in any leader.

Which brings us to her unionist counterpart here in Northern Ireland.

Should Arlene try to be a little more Ruth?

In image terms, they might seem to be poles apart, but both women (they're said to have a warm relationship) have very much in common.

Their commitment to the Union has been the driving force in both their political careers. They share a strong Christian faith.

They both come from an Ulster Scots background, typified by a no-nonsense aversion to emotional incontinence.

Arlene, though, is seen, certainly nationally, as a much less sympathetic character. A much less progressive leader. On social issues, the DUP she leads appears still tethered to the judgemental rigidity of the Robinson era. As party boss, Arlene is viewed as reactionary and out of step with the times (even though friends describe her as personally much more liberal than she comes across).

Unlike Ruth, she hasn't won hearts across the national political spectrum.

But Arlene Foster's public image has also been shaped by something totally without her control.

There's still that warped contention in some quarters that any woman who makes it to the top in public or professional life has to be a hard ticket. Men are assertive, women are harsh and harridans.

Where Arlene Foster is concerned, it goes beyond even that.

I can't think of a single political leader who has taken such a brutal hammering online and in certain sections of the media.

The sniping is deeply personal - as exemplified by a particularly savage cartoon in The Times depicting her as sashed, bowler-hatted and crudely masculine.

To their credit, some of her political opponents have spoken out against such misogynistic portrayal. To their shame, many more of her critics have revelled in it.

(These self-styled "liberals" would never dare hurl the same sort of abuse at her fellow unionist Ruth Davidson.)

I don't know Arlene Foster personally, but there have been times when I've thought of picking up the phone to say you don't deserve this.

Like Ruth Davidson, she's a mother, too. She's talked about the hurt caused to her family - her young daughter, in particular - by some of the brutal jibes she's been subject to.

It's intolerable and it's cruel that any woman in public life should be subjected to such bile.

Juggling motherhood and family life with the demands of political leadership is, as Ruth Davidson concedes, beyond difficult.

How much worse when it is accompanied by the vitriol Arlene Foster has been subject to?

You don't have to agree with her politics to respect her courage and perseverance in dealing with it all.

I don't know how she does it.

Calling all Alexas... your name is redundant

Parents are apparently loathe to name their daughters Alexa these days, because of you know who. Or, rather, you know what.

Obviously, it's a bit tricky calling out your child's name when it also sets off the family technology.

But what about girls who were given the name in the years before Echo Dot took over the living room?

Might they have a case against the other Alexa for trauma caused by being usurped by a gadget?

Treating depression with plants is just potty

Unusual Therapy Suggestion of the Week. That would be a proposal for patients who suffer from depression to be given pot plants. It's based on what I'm sure is a sound argument that gardening, cultivating something and watching it grow is uplifting and satisfying. It's the pot plant bit I worry about. Pot plants are notoriously fickle and demanding. Turn your back and they wither. I'm not convinced of any emotional uplift there.

Art attack is royally wrong

The poor old Queen currently has enough on her plate with reports of her son Andrew's links to a notorious paedophile, Fergie still hovering on the horizon, the mouthy Markles, the feuding dukes and even Boris banging incessantly on her door.

But now she can't even look out of the window without feeling dismay.

Some plonker has painted his massive "tag" on the historic viaduct visible from Windsor Castle.

HELCH it says. Who the HELCH?

Apparently, he's yet another Banksy wannabe inspired by the notion of making a name for himself defacing public property.

I'm not a Banksy fan. I think his art is on a par with twee "inspirational" greetings cards. But at least it goes beyond spraying big letters on walls everywhere. The idiot who's been daubing HELCH all over buildings calls himself a graffiti artist.

He isn't - he's a vandal. He's also a grown man, not some spotty kid. He should know better.

If he really feels he needs to put his "tag" on buildings, he should try daubing it on his parents' house, or the neighbours', and see how that works out.

Far be it from me to stifle anyone's self-expression, but I think that vandals identified after despoiling other people's property should be rounded up and obliged to clean their eyesore mess with a scrubbing brush.

In the case of the Windsor viaduct, it would at least give the Queen something else to look at - to take her mind of her in-house problems.

Belfast Telegraph


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