Political column - July 30

Liz v Rishi. Truss v Sunak. Cheap earrings v expensive smart suit.

The countdown continues and excitement is mounting, although not very much.

As the televised head-to-head debates gripped an expectant nation, Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, saw his chances of collecting the keys to Number 10 take a dive as he was found guilty of a crime against femininity.

Hang your head in shame, Sunak, you mansplainer, you. For those who don't know, mansplaining is the act of a male in trying to explain to a woman where she is going wrong, usually in a condescending manner. Or at least where he thinks she is going wrong.

Mamma mia and mea culpa, it is even something that I have occasionally tried with my wife and I can tell you that it is not something to be attempted lightly, like tightrope walking.

Once she had a car journey to catch a ferry in Portsmouth but lost her way and found herself in Milton Keynes. She had no idea of the way to Portsmouth from Milton Keynes. But she did have an idea of the way to Portsmouth from Birmingham. So she drove from Milton Keynes to Birmingham and started again.

Now I wasn't in the car on this occasion, but had I been, at what point in the journey, if any, would mansplaining have become justified?

But first, in the interests of party political balance, I shall digress to give you Sir Keir Starmer's much hyped speech from this week outlining his new vision for Labour.

Here is a precis: "You ask my policy. It is growth, growth, growth, not recession, recession, recession. I want to see plenty – and not poverty. To build a better Britain, and not a worse one. Going forward to the future, not looking backwards to the past. A fresh start. Love not hate. Peace not war."

I think we can all agree that this groundbreaking speech outlining his radical ideology and creed is a positive step towards propelling Labour into the sunlit uplands of electability.

Sir Keir is not standing in the Conservative leadership election, more's the pity, as he would have a good chance and his suits look just as expensive as Rishi Sunak's.

Of course, a lot of people will think how people dress is a totally trivial issue in the race to become the next Prime Minister, but rightly or wrongly it clearly does matter to the public.

For instance, Michael Foot never really recovered from the false accusation that he laid a wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day in 1981 while wearing a donkey jacket. The truth was that it was an expensive Jaeger overcoat bought from Harrods by his wife especially for the occasion, and indeed the Queen Mother had complimented him on it.

Among other political sartorial faux pas, Tory leader William Hague went to a theme park wearing a baseball cap, his misconceived "down widja kids" gesture simply inviting mockery. One Daily Mail commentator said he "looked like a child molester on a day release scheme."


The other day my colleague Peter Rhodes suggested that if Telford were a business, it would today be seriously considering a name change, in the wake of the child sex abuse scandal in the town.

It reminded me of a completely unrelated reason which calls the town's name into doubt, after I read a relatively recent biography about Thomas Telford, the great Scottish civil engineer after whom Telford is named.

It was titled Man of Iron, by Julian Glover. Mr Glover described Telford, the town, thus: “Today it is a place of sheds, roundabouts, trees and municipal daffodils in spring.” There is he adds, “little of good design.” And there’s an unexpected snippet.

“Thomas Telford was not born with the name which made him famous. His christening is recorded in the Westerkirk parish register in a broad scrawl: ‘9th Augst. John Telfer in Glendinning, had a son baptised named Thomas’. Telford was the simpler spelling of the surname he later used...”

So he wasn't born Telford, then, but Telfer.

And there's another thing. If Nicola Queen of Scots gets her way and Scotland goes independent, who can be sure that she wouldn't want to reclaim all those Scottish things (and people) which have been the subject of English cultural approbation?

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