For British PMs, bringing up babies is child's play

19th October 2011, Comments 0 comments

A new arrival in France's first family will be big news there but in Britain the public are used to prime ministers and their bouncing babies -- and it doesn't mean much of a bounce in the polls.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's wife Carla Bruni gave birth to a baby girl Wednesday at the age of 43, just six months before the supermodel turned singer's husband is due to face a difficult re-election battle.

While the Elysee Palace may be unaccustomed to the patter of tiny feet, it has happened twice in Britain in just over a decade.

Tony and Cherie Blair's son Leo was born in 2000, becoming the first legitimate child born to a serving British prime minister in more than 150 years, while David and Samantha Cameron's daughter Florence was born last year.

Gideon Skinner, research director at British pollsters IPSOS-MORI, said that a politician's image would always be important but that having a baby made no substantial difference to their ratings.

"Certainly it's true that character and values of political leaders are important, no matter how much we'd like it to be just about the substance and the policy," Skinner told AFP.

"In the 2010 general election in the UK, we found it to be the most 'presidential' election that we've ever had -- but there's no evidence in any of our monthly tracking polls that having a baby makes any difference to people's personal ratings.

"It didn't happen with Tony Blair, it didn't happen with David Cameron, and it didn't happen with (Labour opposition leader) Ed Miliband."

Leo George Blair's birth on May 20, 2000 was big news partly due to the age of Cherie Blair, a top lawyer who was 45 at the time and already the mother of three children.

She later described in detail -- that some commentators thought in questionable taste -- how Leo was conceived after she had been too embarrassed to pack contraception for a stay at Queen Elizabeth II's country estate in Balmoral, Scotland.

While there was no poll boost for Blair it briefly checked a slide in support for his Labour party just under one year before elections, which it went on to win.

A Mori poll for the Times newspaper in late May 2000 showed Labour support falling three points to 48 points -- but half the interviews were done before Leo's birth, and in them the rating was lower at 46 points.

Writing later of having an infant while prime minister, Blair said it was "weird having a small baby again, and weirder still in Downing Street.

"But right from the off, he was carried from room to room, from the switchboard to the foreign policy unit, a pocket-sized piece of benign innocence existing in the maelstrom of the world-weary activities of government."

Ten years later, Cameron's Conservative party won a one-point boost in a News of the World ICM poll shortly before elections in May 2010 after the announcement that his wife was pregnant.

But for the Camerons the narrative was different.

There was a pervasive sense of public sympathy towards the couple following the death of their first child, Ivan, who had cerebral palsy and severe epilepsy, in February 2009, aged six.

And when Florence Rose Endellion was born on August 24, 2010, only four months after Cameron entered Downing Street at the head of a coalition government, the public was already used to the idea of nappies in the corridors of power.

© 2011 AFP

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