Striking, angular good looks, straight blonde hair falling softly to her shoulders – perfect casting for a U.S. trophy politico spouse. But this is Austria, where political wives are far more discreet.
Or are they? Philippa Strache is the wife of Heinz-Christian Strache, lately Vice-Chancellor in the Kurz government until his disastrous role in the Ibiza-gate video scandal forced him to resign May 18. She is now widely expected to stand in the September parliamentary elections.
Interviewed by Nicki Fellner in the daily Österreich, Strache II revealed that FPÖ chairman Norbert Hofer had offered her the second position on their Vienna list for the upcoming election, an almost certain shoo-in given the party’s steady support even in the socialist bastion of Vienna.
At first glance, this looks like another example of power retention via a proxy spouse – the great political clans of Butto and Nehru in India, the Kirchners and Perons in Argentina, and dozens in the U.S: Congress (LINK). Since H.C. (Strache) joined the government, Philippa had worked tirelessly to help polish his loving-husband-and-father profile: Endless photos show her at his side, elegant on formal occasions, in folksy dirndl at party Bierfests, gazing adoringly at the great man.
After their son was born in January, H.C. took the Papamonat (paternity leave), an interesting step for a macho right-wing politician – and Philippa was soon telling interviewers about his fatherly dedication, nappy-changing and all.
But then, Ms. Strache is no newcomer to politics. Beginning as secretary in the center-left SPÖ, she was press officer for the right-wing Team Stronach and has carved out a niche for herself as point person for animal rights, women’s and family affairs in the hard-right FPÖ.
She is already embroiled in her first political fist-fight with Vienna’s formidable Ulli Sima (SPÖ), over a proposal to put down unlicensed dogs on the dangerous race list. “You can make fun of the FPÖ,” wrote Fabian Schmid in the daily Der Standard June 14, “but not of Philippa Strache.”
This gives her a breadth of political experience and savvy rare in a first time parliamentary candidate. Political opponents pounced on Hofer’s offer of a seat in the National Assembly as a deal of convenience: H.C. Strache would save his party the embarrassment of taking his designated seat in Strasbourg (EU) parliament and she would keep the family name in the political limelight – while receiving a decent income to compensate for her husband’s loss of job.
She brushed off the criticism: “There are always people out there who see everything negatively,” she told Fellner Jr., “but I’m used to it; you just have to get on with it.” That sounds like a political pro already.