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Competition No 3910

Set by Keith Norman, 28 November

Boxers or briefs?

Report by Ms de Meaner

So now we know. Boxers won out over briefs in the Tory leadership contest. But what did the budding Trinny and Susannahs in the comp complex make of it all? And is there a wider message here for politicians in general? Hon menshes to Bill Greenwell, M E Ault, Anne Du Croz, Adrian Fry, Josh Ekroy, and especially to Shirley Curran for her ideas on the role of the minister's PPS: "Are there fresh briefs daily? In these days of economic squeeze, we must ask about laundering and what dirty washing will be openly aired." £20 to the winners, the best of whom (El Basilio) gets the Tesco vouchers. Welcome to newcomer Tony Walton. And Happy Christmas to all.

While references in Plato and Aristotle were implicit rather than overt, by the 18th century underwear was a major issue in

political philosophy. The classical liberalism

of Locke's "Concerning Toleration" is essentially non-prescriptive, a sentiment echoed by Mary Wollstonecraft in her seminal feminist tract "Petticoats or Slips? A Woman's Right to Choose". Voltaire, in Lettres Philosophiques and Candide, was the first to imply specific preferences, in this case for an early forerunner of French knickers, representing Leibniz's "best of all possible worlds". Flimsy shifts and chemisettes replaced heavy whalebone bodices and corsets, giving rise to the term "The Enlightenment". Rousseau was more deviant in his tastes: "Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains." Modern Conservatism has always espoused an immutably liberal, non-interventionist approach to lingerie. It is therefore the most unequivocal sign of the demise of Thatcherism, and even of Euroscepticism, when leadership contenders openly state their true preferences. Be warned. While boxers indicate Friedman's reliance on market forces, briefs represent an almost Keynesian approach to controlling inflation.

David Silverman

If Gordon Brown's long johns, asserting Caledonian prudence, set him apart, boxers and briefs are mainstream choices. David Davis's preference for briefs reflects the ex-SAS man's fear of being crept up on; David Cameron's boxers fit his preppy chubbiness. Both types are appropriate to contenders for the Tory leadership, where "covering your ass" is vital. But the word at Westminster is that most Labour

backbenchers who voted against the 90-day

detention period wore tangas, with that crisp hint of defiance in the scanty cut, while Ken Livingstone is reported to wear a "string", thus declaring his independence from official lines while avoiding a VPL. The general axiom "The more left, the groovier the pants" is complicated by Charles Kennedy (in or out of a kilt) and Dennis Skinner, a sturdy Y-fronts man by repute, though this is not known for certain. Most female politicians who followed Cherie's taste for thongs have now got tired of the flossing effect and opted for big knickers or nothing at all, a polarisation that ignores party allegiances.

Basil Ransome-Davies

The Undergarment of Political Belief

Boxer shorts are the indispensable accoutrement of the modern, flexible Conservative, allowing a laissez-faire ability to swing from left of centre to right of centre with the merest flick of the hips, and the added advantage that no observer can be sure which is the case at any given moment. The more traditional briefs are the natural bastion of those Tories who subscribe to the paramount importance of holding one's assets firmly under control and tightly clustered together for reliable safe keeping.

It is, however, no longer de rigueur for the successful Conservative politician to display his briefs on the outside of his trousers, nor to adhere only to the Aertex-style Y-front model.

Tony Walton

No 3913 Set by Valerie Yule

You are being kind to all the elderly aunts

and decide to make use of your less welcome Christmas presents this year. Are there purposes other than that

intended? Let's see the thank-you letters.

Max 150 words by 12 January. E-mail: