Why do politicians have to ruin everything? I’m not even talking about the government as a whole, setting brother against brother, red wall against blue wall; this is specifically about Liz Truss and her Claire’s Accessories earrings.
It was Nadine Dorries who first drew attention to the £4.50 baubles, as she sought on Twitter to distinguish Truss from her overprivileged rival, Rishi Sunak. Liz is salt of the earth, was Dorries’s message. If Sunak spent as much in Claire’s as he does on his suits, he wouldn’t be able to carry the amount of jewellery he’d bought and would probably also own the shop.
It must always strike a chill into your heart, seeing Dorries charge to your rescue, like the arrival of a fire engine that is itself on fire. Her words did not have the desired effect. Nobody liked Truss more after this detail, and everyone bemoaning the lack of civility in the contest used this as its emblem.
Spare a thought, though, not for those of us enduring the leadership race – we are at least adults, and should each take some complex responsibility for the wreckage – but for the nation’s 10- to 14-year-old girls. They don’t go to Claire’s to look “salt of the earth” or thrifty or down with the kids. They go because it’s basically Aladdin’s cave if your pocket money is measured out in coffee spoons. Just when you think you’ve blown the lot, there’s a three-for-two or a Bogof. They spend ages there, trapped in exquisite indecision: the foxes sitting on tiny toadstools, or the earrings in the shape of the pina colada that they are not yet old enough to drink but are damn well old enough to memorialise?
After maybe an hour of rudimentary maths, it turns out they can afford both and still have change for a lipgloss the colour of rigor mortis. It’s just not the same if Truss is also wearing them; now they’re a statement that you don’t want to make. Never mind her politics, the statement is: “Also worn by adults.”
Boris Johnson could never ruin anything, because whatever he wore he always looked as if he’d rolled in a pile of jumble and stood up. David Cameron ruined sheds, of course, but it’s such an outlay, a posh shed, that the existing shed owners just had to pretend this hadn’t happened. Theresa May definitely took the shine off discreetly expensive elegance, with her leather trousers, Vivienne Westwood suits and, my personal favourite, the boat-necked jacket that made her look like an astronaut who’d just taken her helmet off. She once in 2010 wore it every day for a fortnight, by the end of which the whole “statement”, “difficult piece” genre was ruined if you were anywhere near 50, unless you were happy for people to think you were paying homage to the then home secretary.
The original fashion saboteur was Tony Blair, who stepped out at a Commonwealth summit in 2002 wearing Paul Smith cufflinks. It tainted the brand ever after – yes, even the wallets – with the unfortunate vibe of a man who wanted to look broadly serious on the world stage while at the same time a tiny bit metrosexual because he’d read it in GQ. For those of us who only used to buy the brand as a gift, this development saved us a bob or two, but a generation of men lost their splash of colour, just as a generation of girls has now lost the rebel thrill of wearing a unicorn in one ear and an avocado in the other.