In the Media

My claws are out for John Hemming | Victoria Coren

PUBLISHED October 22, 2011

Little wonder his wife's actions were odd. She had to put up with his vile behaviour This week Christine Hemming is due to be sentenced. Do you remember Christine Hemming? Picture a buxom and smiling woman holding a cat: sexy, well groomed, mixed race, lovely face. And that's just the cat. I'm hoping my editors will not illustrate this page with the photo I'm talking about (which appeared everywhere a few weeks ago), but show instead the relevant lady's husband: John Hemming, Lib Dem MP for Birmingham Yardley. That is the person we should learn to recognise, wherever he appears. Mrs Hemming was found guilty of stealing a kitten belonging to her husband's mistress. When the newspapers found an old picture of her holding a cat, obviously that's what they used. It was very helpful for readers. Oh, a cat! One of those! Yes: now I can easily imagine her stealing a slightly smaller one. We do love a cat story. Here's one in your eye, Cat Bin Lady and Cat-Owning Bolivian Immigrant and Person Responsible For Lighthearted PR About the Downing Street Cat in Times of Recession and War: a proper catnapping! Christine Hemming was presented in the press as a bit of a Mrs Rochester, mad and jealous, creeping about nicking pets. I'm sure that's how John Hemming saw her, as he encouraged his girlfriend to file a police report. Even my esteemed and sympathetic fellow columnist Barbara Ellen said she could not condone Mrs Hemming's "crazy antics". Now, this may be an embarrassing thing to admit, but I bet a million women would secretly agree: it didn't look crazy to me. It made sense. Do you know the story of John Hemming? He was serially unfaithful to his wife. She tried to leave him in 1997 but went back. Just as their relationship was warming up again, Hemming began a new affair with a woman he then impregnated. At the time of the cat burglary, Hemming was dividing his time between both families. The modern culture will tell you that Mrs Hemming should never have gone back ? or, at least, ditched him again when he began the new affair. "Kick him to the kerb, girl!" the culture would cry. Just as it screams that Cheryl Cole must never go back to Ashley; that a woman must walk out the moment a man is unfaithful or deceitful (or, of course, violent), to a big, bombastic soundtrack as she would in a movie, and never look back. Well, it isn't so easy. Some people have the strength, the pride and survival instinct to act immediately on principle; some of us just don't. Walking away from someone we love is as huge and challenging an act of will as standing still when faced with a lion. You know what you're supposed to do, but you can't. Even if that means being eaten alive. Christine: I am with you in that midnight garden. You don't understand, do you? You don't understand why everything is so painful. You don't understand how he can make you feel so special, yet so forgettable. You don't understand why someone who loves you (or ever did) can treat you like an irrelevant stranger bothering him at a bus stop. You don't understand why you still love him anyway. You don't understand why he doesn't just tell you it's over, or why you can't say that yourself; it's not the despair that kills you, it's the hope. You don't understand how you came to be this person, creeping around in the dark, bloated with sadness and self-doubt. Meanwhile, John Hemming encourages his mistress to phone the police. He bleats indiscreetly to the press that, when his wife left him 15 years ago, she "rekindled her friendship with a man she knew from university". Oh, poor Christine, I bet you did. I can imagine how hard you tried to recapture that simple student past and seek comfort in the arms of someone who seemed to want you completely. Hemming takes no responsibility for his part in this. He merrily asked his constituents, through the medium of a newspaper interview: "Do you want someone who behaves like a vicar or a monk?" No, John. Some people have affairs. Being faithful is not the job. But your non-committal, indecisive, self-indulgent behaviour has evidently tortured and damaged your wife for many years: either you were too blind to see it or too cold to care. We don't need vicars in Parliament (although, personally, I'd rather like it), but we don't want fools or bastards. And then you tried to have it both ways by telling the press: "I do not think that imprisoning my wife would be of any benefit to anyone." Perhaps you should have thought of that before you "supported referring the theft of the kitten to the police because I felt it was necessary to stop my wife from feeling she was free to trespass in Emily's garden at will". John Hemming, you are a total swine. And believe me, "swine" is not the word I'd use if we were discussing this in a pub. The reason your wife should not go to prison is that she's imprisoned already. Perhaps in a more feminised culture, with a greater emphasis on emotional context, this would never have gone to court. If she gets anything more than a conditional discharge, it will be inexcusable extra cruelty. How have you got away with this, John Hemming? How is it not your face all over the newspapers, with voters demanding your resignation? How are you still gliding into Parliament, with voting rights on everything from war to privacy, when you cannot even understand liability in your own wife's suffering? Maybe you're weak too, John Hemming. Maybe you also feel scared, lost, confused, unable to do the right thing. Either way, I don't want you making moral decisions in my name. Crime Liberal Democrats Marriage Animals Victoria Coren © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds