BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 15 DEC 2016


You may be incredulous about the exchange between the Prime Minister and a former Cabinet colleague which has progressed from gladrags to handbags. Or you may know fine this is not about clothing or accessories but how thin skinned Theresa May is, though strictly Nicky Morgan had a spat with a SPAD.

Sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me is baloney and Morgan’s ill judged tweet will be in the air every time May steps into her fancy pants, as sure as Gromit follows Wallace. The PM might never take those leather trousers in her stride again because, in the words of WH Auden, “an injury is sooner forgotten than an insult”.  You still know the name of the manager who slagged-off your shoes in front of the team.

The Wrong Trousers is a short animation you will be unable to avoid over Christmas, but the film briefly inspired the idea that one might wear wrong trousers on the last Friday of June and contribute to charity for the sartorial subterfuge (what fun).

It was so last century.  Now we grow moustaches or cycle the Pyrenees, which give better mileage on social media. Try taking a passable selfie of your trousers. On that funky Friday you would laugh like a drain when told you were more spots and flares than stocks and shares.

We should make every day Wrong Trousers Day, metaphorically revelling in the ridicule as our lederhosen make a farting noise at the photocopier. Every sodding day we should all pull on a virtual pair of daft pants and stop rooting around for reasons to be pissed off; it is difficult to get your dander up if you envision yourself wearing Bermuda shorts.

Mute those on twitter you agree with and follow others you don’t. Read the opinions of those you find incomprehensible or offensive. Argue the case from the other side. After a while you will instinctively stop speaking only to people who share your worldview because that is claustrophobic, myopic and ultimately destructive. You will challenge your own firmly held beliefs. This is invigorating, expansive and life affirming.

On YouTube this week I caught a debate between recently departed Times controversialist AA Gill and radical Guardian leftie George Monbiot. Crazy George stuck the link up on twitter in memory of an admired adversary. There is nothing these two agree on and watching them go at it on whether we should eat meat is insightful (Adrian would eat anything without a birth certificate; George subsists on pulses and road-kill).

I debated a motion that “The Electric Chair Is Good Punishment for Killers” around the time we all fell in love with Wallace & Gromit. My team took the line that the electric chair was effective, not too quick or too slow, and very painful: therefore it was a perfect punishment for killers. Debating at its best is disputatious entertainment and there was much knockabout on both sides. But also reference to the ECHR, sundry philosophical treatises and heart-rending stories of miscarriages of justice. Nobody took offense or went off in the huff as heat and light were liberally served. The debate continued in the bar afterwards.

Morgan was naïve in personalising but she and May will get over it because that’s what adults do. We all need to do the same because we are living through times of rapid change. We hear so much about not giving offense and that is fair enough. Your words carry weight and you should calibrate them. But we are increasingly rubbing up against people who do not share our worldview. Strangely, they do not live far away. Surprisingly, they are not from another culture. Scarily, we have lived alongside them all of our lives: our closest friends, our work colleagues and our family. So choose to empathise rather than ramp up the hyperbole, concoct a personal slight and disengage.

And, finally, a test: If you are queasy by the use of “farting”, “pissed off”, “sodding” or my gratuitous line of attack in a debate that took place 25 years ago?

Keep it to yourself.


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