Published in The Times 13.12.2011
Relationship analysis – by psychotherapist Phillip Hodson
Will the dangerous Downing Street liaison between David Cameron and his spouse Nick Clegg survive the week or might they need emergency marital counselling? The signs are stormy. Gossip suggests Mr Cameron has had a one-night stand with the sirens of Euro-scepticism. Mr Clegg is aghast, and adrift. He couldn’t even bear to be present when his partner made his excuses to the House of Commons. All too humiliating – and there remains the possibility of Nights 2 and 3. Mr Clegg, although absent, appears to be clinging to the words of Tammy Wynette:
“You’ll have bad times and he’ll have good times, doing things that you don’t understand. But if you love him you’ll forgive him. Stand by your man!”
Is it enough?
We learn from the Style section of the Sunday Times that modern marriages – even political ones – are largely “post-romantic”. They survive more on grit than gush. The passion of those idyllic days in the Prime Ministerial garden has been crushed between the impertinence of Vince Cable and the resentment of David Davies; between the ambition of Chris Huhne and the intransigence of Jacob Rees-Mogg.
How can marital theory help? Well, we know from good American research that lasting relationships are nearly always between people who are broadly similar. Harmony of views and values is the glue that binds couples. Opposites may well attract (you can fancy anyone, even Mr Speaker) but opposites almost never stay the course. We also know from research into the longevity of relationships that it’s not whether you have rows that matters, it’s how you conduct ’em. Can you stroke away your partner’s hurts? Will you cook that metaphorical dinner of apology just for him?
I suppose it’s a bad start that Mr Clegg did not bother to arrive for the Commons’ session at all. As a therapist, I’m used to this scenario in the consulting room – and tend to advise that if one party still comes to talk to me, the other one will probably turn up too if only to put their side of things.
But it’s a good sign that Mr Cameron bent over backwards to explain what did and did not happen on that fateful summit evening – his words were addressed to the Commons but were meant for just one Nick. Rarely has there been such a top Tory listing of the virtues of the sacred union of Great Britain and the EU. I would bet his partner noticed that.
Supposing they ARE hewn from the same wood (upper-class public schoolboys whose life experience is more BBC4 than Channel 5) I’d suggest they have scope to re-build. Mr Cameron explains he acted because he loves Europe. Mr Clegg accepts that they both love Europe if in slightly different fashions. Mr Cameron says he still loves his partner. Mr Clegg accepts Cameron didn’t really go ALL the way. Provided Mr Cameron is prepared to sleep in the Boris Johnson shed of contrition for a few nights Mr Clegg will eventually readmit him to the family home – if only for the sake of their adopted party children. Coalition survives.