Chuka Umunna’s decision to pull out of the Labour leadership race should have us asking questions of the media. Not least, says Fiona Longmuir, does anyone really care if our politicians are married or not?
It’s an exciting time for politics. We’re in the wake of a shock General Election result, with referenda looming and leadership contests kicking off left, right and centre (See what I did there?). This is the golden era of cutting-edge political journalism.
And by “political journalism”, I obviously mean “half-baked attempts at smearing candidates using irrelevant personal details”.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna withdrew his leadership candidacy just three days into his campaign, stating he had been unprepared for the level of scrutiny it would bring on him and his family. This prompted a respectful and dignified retreat by the press.
Nah, I’m totally kidding.
The media fell over themselves speculating about what skeletons Umunna was hiding in his closet. Presumably coming up short, they returned to the stories they used to discredit him during his campaign: his fondness for clubbing, the death of his father and last, but certainly not least, the fact he is stubbornly not marrying his girlfriend.
The latter was particularly baffling to the right-wing media during his leadership bid; they just couldn’t get their heads around an unmarried adult. One conservative blogger even dedicated an entire post to the reasons Umunna’s marital status meant he was a completely terrible person.
There are a great many appropriate responses to this point of view, one of which is rolling your eyes and groaning in irritation. But I’ve got my big girl pants on today, so instead, I’m going to attempt to engage with this thoroughly stupid argument.
We are obsessed with the idea that random details from a person’s lifestyle can tell you about the kind of human that they are. From this constant parading of public figures’ personal lives, to the Buzzfeed quizzes that try to guess who your soulmate is based on what kind of sandwich you like, we love to put people in neat little boxes. But guess what? Despite our best efforts, most people remain stubbornly un-boxed. Some people are lazy. Some people are vegetarians. Some people have lots of kids. Some people are manipulative. Some people hate opera. Some people love cats. Some people are married. These things are not related most of the time.
“I’d really have hoped that, in 2015, we’d be able to move beyond the idea that marriage is the only serious form of commitment, but it would appear not.”
I am so tired of this join-the-dots journalism, where we start with the revelation that someone plays guitar in their spare time and follow that to the inevitable conclusion that they’re a narcissist. But we buy into it, because it gives the media the tenuous excuse that producing a list of a politician’s ex-girlfriends is actually in the public interest. Because we deserve to know.
Laura Perrins, the blogger who got the ball rolling on this argument, drew three main conclusions from Umunna’s decision not to make his girlfriend his wife. Either:
He is too lazy to get married. (Yeah, I don’t know either.)
He is too unromantic to get married.
Or, he thinks all women are beneath him.
That, to me, seems like a pretty bold set of claims. The suggestion that his relationship status makes him a great big manchild is also painfully evident throughout her piece and the subsequent media coverage. It’s the kind of argument I’d expect an eight-year-old to have:
“Well, he’s not married yet, so he can’t be a really real grown up.”
That having a partner rather than a spouse is something to be sneered at is hardly a new idea. Looking down on families which fall outside the nuclear family model is a longstanding tradition in the right-wing press. I’d really have hoped that, in 2015, we’d be able to move beyond the idea that marriage is the only serious form of commitment, but it would appear not.
In case anyone is in any doubt, it is entirely possible to be in a relationship based on commitment, love and respect without declaring it in a legal ceremony. My boyfriend and I have been together for almost six years. We’ve lived together for three. And we have no intention of marching down the aisle any time soon.
But you know what? If we did, I’d still be the same person I am now. There are plenty of lazy, unromantic narcissists in the world, and they’d be lazy, unromantic narcissists with or without a ring on their finger. It’s about time that we stopped seeing the decision to get married as some kind of status badge and saw it for what it really is: nobody else’s god damn business.
READ MORE: Helen Walmsley-Johnson on the joys of the single life: http://standardissuemagazine.com/voices/this-single-life/3048 Views
Fiona Longmuir is a professional storyteller, reluctant adult and aspiring funny girl. When not getting naked in tube stations and binge-watching inappropriate TV shows, she can be found scribbling at the Escapologist's Daughter.