Sarah Mackinlay

The politician’s daughter

Ted Cruz’s daughter ruins photocalls by making bunny ears behind her dad’s head and refusing to hug him for the cameras

The politician’s daughter
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Like millions of non-Americans hooked on the US election, I’m backing someone even though I don’t have a vote. I love Cruz and I’m not ashamed to say it. I’m not talking about the oleaginous Ted, but Caroline, his seven-year-old daughter. Caroline is that rare thing in politics — an actual human being. Her eyes glaze over in campaign videos as she’s forced to deliver a succession of facile lines. She ruins coordinated photocalls by making bunny ears behind her dad’s head and refusing to hug him for the cameras. She slumps, listening to endless mind-numbing speeches at never-ending rallies, very obviously bored out of her mind.

She is the antithesis of Chelsea Clinton — so primped, every bit as ruthless as her mother. She shows up the older Trump children for the pawns they are. In her petulant apathy, Caroline is just like us, the people.

But the main reason I like Caroline is that I used to be her, on a much smaller stage. As the youngest child of former Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay, I know how tiresome it can be to have a politician for a father.

I was born two weeks before the Greater London Council election in 1981. The first picture taken of me was printed in the Surrey Comet in a piece about my father’s candidacy. My mother looked elated, exhausted and beautiful in a William Morris-patterned dressing gown. I was in her arms, my two brothers at her side. It was the first and last time I co--operated in presenting my father as the perfect family man.

In 1983, my family was marshalled again, this time for his election leaflet as a prospective MP. At the precise moment the picture was taken, I crapped all down my brother’s leg. Fortunately, back then pictures were reproduced in black and white and came out slightly grainy.

Poor Caroline has to traipse across the length and breadth of the land, waving at crowds to further her father’s ambition. A politician’s family must get accustomed to being on display and always on the move. In the run up to the 1987 general election my family spent most weekends doing the 240-mile round trip to Peterborough, where my father was standing. As we hurtled up and down the motorway, my brothers and I could only register our protest by chanting endless rounds of ‘I know a song that’ll get on your nerves’ from the back seat.

According to family legend, I pretty much ruined my father’s career when, at the Labour party conference in 1994, I marched up to the shiny new leader, Tony Blair. When he asked who I was, I explained, very earnestly, that I was the daughter of Andrew MacKinlay, adding: ‘But he won’t come over because he doesn’t want to be part of this pantomime…’ The infamous chipped-toothy grin threatened to slide off Blair’s face, and he moved on. My father’s reputation as a member of the awkward squad was sealed.

I caused trouble, on principle, because I was bored. But there was an upside to all the hoopla. Even as a child I couldn’t help but be swept along by the hype of a rally, the rousing speeches, heartfelt singing and enthusiastic yelps and cheers. I didn’t quite understand what it was all about but I soon learnt the words to ‘Jerusalem’ off by heart. And listening to a speech my dad gave off the cuff without notes but with huge passion was inspiring even if I didn’t understand what he was saying.

But I admired him most on the doorstep, campaigning for Labour. I recall him standing down a very tall, very fat and very threatening supporter of a far-right group furious that he’d had the temerity to post a blatantly socialist leaflet through the letterbox. My father is small, I noticed then, but he’s also tough. He refuses to be intimidated by anyone, especially not someone intent on voting BNP.

Like me, Caroline Cruz probably sees much less of her father than other kids at her age. Sometimes we’d go to Parliament to meet Dad for dinner. If we hadn’t, we might have forgotten what he looked like. I felt very privileged to get to walk about in the House of Commons, seeing the politicians who made history stride about. Ian Paisley terrified me, not merely on account of his loud voice but because as he shook my hand I could feel my tiny bones crunch in his enormous clenched palm.

I was fortunate in the fact that my father never used my brothers or me to make any sort of political point. We were just part of his life, and his life was that of a politician. Looking back, I’m glad I wasn’t publicly fed a hamburger at the height of the BSE crisis, as John Gummer’s daughter was, or wheeled out for a post-sex-scandal photo call — like David Mellor’s children — to help save his career. What a burden of responsibility they must have felt.

Nowadays, things have changed. Here in the UK, unlike America, we frown on using kids to promote politics at all. As a journalist, I once interviewed Gordon Brown. As soon as his aide saw our photographer, he whipped the family photos out of sight. That seems a healthy impulse. Children should not be turned into little PR trophies.

But they don’t have to be airbrushed out of political life, either. Caroline Cruz, for instance, is a revelation. I hope the spin doctors don’t crush her rebellious spirit, and that we will see more of her misbehaving. If Ted weren’t such an odious creep, he’d realise his daughter is far and away the best thing about his campaign.