I KNOW that when you’re a card-carrying feminist you are supposed to go navy blue with rage when tabloid newspapers comment on the clothes, shoes, hairdos and handbags of women marching along to get their new jobs in Downing Street.
But I’m sorry, I couldn’t give a monkey’s. It’s no good arguing whether it was right or wrong for a certain publication to give over two pages to the ‘Downing Street catwalk’; commenting on clinched waists, ‘emphasised’ busts, the provenance of heels and the price of the new minister for Coastal Communities’ frock.
It happened. It always has happened.
And it always will because women themselves are interested in this sort of thing.
Women are judged on how we look. And that, I believe, is our luck.
Because it means we can use what the Queen herself refers to as her ‘props’ to create the image we want to portray.
We can hide away in the background when it suits, yet, in a sea of suits, we can stand out like a beacon of magenta-ness.
Look at all that footage of the House of Commons during PMQs. The only people you notice are the women. Because of what they’re wearing.
Women can use shoes to become taller, underwear to become slimmer or sexier (it doesn’t have to get seen, just create the right shape underneath) and colour and cut to project an image of steely-ambition or unthreatening playfulness.
Sensible women know this and get over the appearance thing very quickly. It’s why, despite all that waffle she gave out recently about dressing as she pleases, Hillary Rodham Clinton generally dresses like the first woman President of America.
It’s one of the reasons why Maggie Thatcher zipped up on the inside to grab the top job while Shirley Williams never quite convinced enough people she was serious.
Maggie looked like she meant business, Shirley looked a mess.
Many years ago I trooped half a mile in my highest and most crippling heels to attend a fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference in order to catch a glimpse of my political heroine, Dame Barbara Castle.
Even before she arrived, two ladies were waiting for her.
They’d known her when she was a flame-haired MP. And one of the reasons they gave for adoring her was: “She looked beautiful, she always wore lovely clothes.”
They judged Barbara, that uber-feminist, partly by her appearance, by the effort she made to look good.
In due course Barbara arrived.
She swept up to the platform, whipped out a hairbrush and started arranging her hair.
Then, with a final flourish, she applied her lippie before making a barnstorming speech.
After that she gave me a short interview which I shall treasure all my life. And, as I knew she would, complimented me on my ‘lovely shoes’.
Appearance – not good looks – is everything in politics and wise women know it.