For those that don’t know, here’s #Trousergate in a nutshell…
Prime Minister Theresa May wore a pair of £995 Amanda Wakeley ‘bitter chocolate’ leather trousers in a photo shoot for an interview in The Sunday Times, published last month. This prompted former Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, to tell The Times that the luxury garment had been ‘noticed and discussed’ by MPs. ‘I don’t have leather trousers,’ she told the paper. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much on anything apart from my wedding dress.’ She went on to say, ‘My barometer is always: 'How am I going to explain this in Loughborough market?’ (Morgan is MP for Loughborough.)
Last weekend, The Mail On Sunday published text messages between the Prime Minister’s joint chief of staff, Fiona Hill, and the Conservative MP Alistair Burt, where Hill instructed him not to bring ‘that woman’ [Morgan] to No. 10 again. [Morgan and Burt were due to meet with May to discuss Brexit.]
Morgan caught wind of this and messaged Hill saying: ‘If you don't like something I have said or done, please tell me directly. No man brings me to any meeting. Your team invites me. If you don't want my views in future meetings you need to tell them.’
Hill responded: ‘Well, he [Burt] just did. So there!’
Shortly after, Morgan was disinvited to the meeting at No. 10.
Naturally, this has become a MASSIVE STORY. Dubbed #Trousergate, commentators have poured over details such as what the row really tells us about Theresa May, and were Nicky Morgan’s comments an example of sexism?
This trivial piece of news has, yes, been blown out of all proportion. But it has also uncovered some interesting talking points…
1.) What female politicians wear matters to women
Possibly the most interesting aspect of this debacle is the revelation that what female politicians wear is apparently a topic worthy of discussion… for women. It fits so perfectly into feminist ideals to assume that endless news stories dedicated to Theresa May’s wardrobe – her love of kitten heels, her ‘cleavage-revealing’ outfits – all stem from ‘discriminatory’ men. But this instance demonstrates that women contribute to these stories too. Because of course women are capable of undermining other women, and they do when they comment on their wardrobes, implying what they’re wearing shows how effective they are (or aren’t) at work. That’s a difficult truth to acknowledge, for women.
2.) What should our head of government – be they male or female – wear?
This story has invited us to think about what it is we expect our Prime Minister to wear. Something cheap to show solidarity with the poorest of our nation, or something expensive that sets them apart?
Unlike Hill, I don’t believe that what a politician wears calls in to play whether they are effective at representing the needs of their constituents. But I do think that Prime Ministers have a reputation to uphold – the UK’s reputation – and how they dress should reflect that responsibility.
I’ve gone back and forth over this – whether I would care if our Prime Minister attended a G7 summit wearing a cheap high street suit over one from a designer. If neither dictate their ability to protect our country’s interests, why does it matter which it is, as long as they look presentable?
But to me, it does matter. I would like our Prime Minister to present him or herself as an image of success. And as first appearances count for everything – as do photographs – the way to do it, in the flash of a camera, is to dress as slickly, stylishly and successfully as possible. More often than not, that also means expensively.
3.) Politics in the workplace can be trivial, at every level
Of course, there’s more to #Trousergate than trousers. As the BBC points out, it has a lot to do with Brexit.
Morgan has raised her head ‘above the parapet’, as she told BBC’s Sunday Politics, in vocalising such views as calling for No. 10 to lay out its plans for Brexit. A series of letters dating back to summer 2015 (leaked earlier this month) reveal tension between May and Morgan as far back as then, over proposed plans for the schooling of children of illegal immigrants to be ‘deprioritised’. It was that spat, Morgan claimed in the aforementioned The Times interview, that led May to sack her as Education Secretary when she took up the role of PM.
It’s evident May and Morgan have disagreed, professionally, on a number of issues to date... But it was the trouser comment which was the absolute final straw. This goes to show that even at the highest level of office, petty issues matter. (Which makes us feel slightly better about that row with our colleague over the air con/window desk/stolen stapler...)
4.) Politicians refuse to learn that having e-arguments is a huge mistake
‘Leaked emails reveal…’, ‘text messages shown to a tabloid newspaper uncover…’ why do MPs continue to have electronic spats? I can’t understand it. The experience of others should have taught them that if they have a problem with someone, the best thing to do is talk it out, ideally face to face, but at the very least on the phone.
Because, how easy is it to record or repeat a phone conversation? Far less easy than forwarding an email or a text. Yes, we all get carried away in the heat of the moment, but public figures surely have the nous to know that in hot-headed situations, level-headedness is required – stop, breathe, imagine how that text would look splashed across the front pages of a Sunday newspaper… and pick up the darn phone.
So yes, #Trousergate has indeed uncovered some interesting insights. The most amusing of which, and the one I shall end on, is something that has been wholly over-looked: the knowledge that when it comes to making a statement, the trusty leather pants have, thankfully, still got it.