September 14, 2012 9:37 pm

And now a few glowing words from my wife

She’ll hopefully be fleshing out a more rounded picture of the man behind the text so that you’ll like me more
An illustration by Lucas Varela©Lucas Varela

Thank you for turning to this week’s column. But just before I address you directly, my wife would like to say a few words about me. She’ll hopefully be fleshing out a more rounded picture of the man behind the text so that you’ll like me more and want to read my subsequent articles.

Originally, I was just going to get on with it as usual. But after watching the Democratic and Republican conventions and having seen the heartwarming tributes paid to their spouses by Ann Romney and Michelle Obama, I realise she could be a real asset in this article.

She will explain to you that I wasn’t born into this role; that I got here by working for it. My parents were both born in London’s East End and didn’t enjoy a life of privilege. What success they had, they earned. They built a better life for their children and imbued me with their values of integrity and hard work. She’ll throw in some mildly deprecating remarks to show that I have my faults like the rest of you, although, obviously, my faults will be fewer and less serious than yours because, ultimately, she is meant to make me look good. You’ll like my wife; she’s a lot nicer than me. But that’s OK, because subconsciously you’ll think that someone with such a nice wife must be a stand-up guy himself.

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Robert Shrimsley

Actually, I won’t just be using my wife for this article, because it occurs that I’ve probably been missing a trick in my career development. In fact, she’ll be accompanying me to all future job interviews. Now I think about it, since I’m of Jewish descent, I might bring my mother as well. I do worry about this trend. If no man is a hero to his valet, even fewer are to their partners. Mrs Obama may have felt that outing her husband as “stinky and snory” might endear him to his prospective employers but, well, I know the editor of the FT and I worry there could be such a thing as too much information. Then again, if there is such a thing as too much information, my wife is undoubtedly the right person to supply it.

I will also be applying this new principle when hiring as well. It seems sheer folly to think that I’ve spent decades employing builders and cleaners without knowing anything of their back story. In many ways this seems more important than knowing the life stories of political leaders; after all, I’ve never left the prime minister with the keys to my house. Even so, it could slow down the hiring process: “So Mrs Jones; why do you think your husband is the right man to paint my living room?” “Well, before I answer that, let me tell you a bit about him. Jim wasn’t born a decorator ... ”

With politicians, the defence of this flummery is that we need to know what makes them tick; that we want to be reassured about their character. But why are voters impressed by a spousal endorsement? Presumably Eva Braun had some fine tales about life with Adolf in the Berchtesgaden. “He wasn’t born a homicidal maniac ... ” Asma Assad has nothing but good things to say about her husband’s generosity and patience on their shopping trips. “He was always nice to the assistants and never killed anyone for slow service.”

One can see what Republican strategists were thinking. Mitt Romney has such a record of ditched principles and policy flip-flopping that voters have no real way of knowing what he truly stands for. They would doubtless be reassured that this information is known to Ann Romney who has 18 grandchildren and a horse in the Olympics.

But anyway, this seems to be the way things are moving; so here’s my wife. She says I had to battle through some “difficult times and early setbacks but stayed cheerful throughout”. Apparently I’m “great with the kids” but “could do more housework”. She won’t take up too much space; she’s not one to crave the limelight.

In fact, she’s done, and now that you have a far fuller picture of your correspondent, we can get on with this week’s article. Except, ahem, it seems we’ve run out of space. What a pity, it was going to be such an interesting piece. Oh well, look now you’ve heard from my wife, I’m sure you’ll come back next week.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

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