Friday, 15 April 2016

Just dotty about totty

Here’s a test.  Are you a dad?  Do you have a daughter?  Do you have a pet name for your daughter?  Is that name Totty? I thought not.  What about other fathers’ daughters?

There are, of course, other  soubriquets with which to address an assistant editor of a national magazine: slag; slut; whore; darling; sweetie; and dear to name a few.  Where in that spectrum of familiarity totty falls is open to debate.  What should not be open to debate is that the best way of addressing someone with whom you have a solely professional connection is by their name.

Colonel Bob Stewart DSO MP is 66 and a Conservative politician.  Isabel Hardman is 29 and assistant editor of The Spectator and a columnist for The Daily Telegraph.  Miss Hardman reports on Twitter that on 11 April his opening gambit to her at an event was: ‘I want to talk to the totty.’ She did not name Mr Stewart but complained to the Whips and apparently an apology was forthcoming.  It was not long however before his name was reported prompting a storm of commentary with Gaby Hinsliff deploring his conduct in The Guardian and Isabel Oakeshott in The Daily Mail deploring hers.

Here’s another test.  The Queen; Margaret Thatcher; Theresa May; Samantha Cameron; and his commanding officer’s wife.  Which of these women do you think Mr Stewart would call totty to their face?

It is very easy to dismiss this as a generational thing; clumsy flirtation meeting stony ground or just frigid humourlessness.  It is easy because that is what society has always done.  But just because something has always happened does not make it right.

I remember when I was a pupil shadowing a barrister from Doughty Street Chambers in the Court of Appeal.  Returning in a taxi from the Royal Courts of Justice with his phenomenally clever legal researcher the cabbie pulled up with a cheery: ‘There you are young lady’.  This elicited the immediate response: ‘Thank you very much middle aged man’.  He was not being rude.  She was not being rude.  She was simply pointing out that if he was going to comment on her age she would comment on his.

For that reason some, with Miss Oakeshott prominent amongst them, feel that the better way for Miss Hardman to have handled the situation would have been with a witty retort and put down.  But not all people, men and women included, are confident meeting graceless condescension with a verbal stiletto or oral head butt.

I recently undertook training to become a pupil supervisor and was astonished in how many different ways it was possible to communicate the warning: Don’t have sex with your pupil.  Frankly it is embarrassing that such explicit advice needs to be imparted in the 21st century but some people are completely oblivious to professional boundaries and the spectacular imbalance of power that prevails between pupil and supervisor.  This applies as much in politics as it does in law.

In the final analysis, for me, Mr Stewart’s salutation is a simple example of bad manners and that is not conduct becoming an officer and a gentleman.

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