Showing his shirt is Major's way of baring his soul

Sexy, youthful and a step closer to Oasis, possibly, but the Prime Minister was following Tony Benn
Click to follow
John Major is no longer a stuffed shirt. Psychologists and social commentators yesterday described the Prime Minister's candy-striped party conference performance as sexy, youthful, blokeish - even Blairish.

"This look is about as Oasis as he's going to get," the fashion writer Robin Dutt said. "He looked positively sexy - fresh, new, happier, younger, altogether like a university student, naughtier in some way."

Labour accused Mr Major of copying Tony Blair but the veteran left-wing MP Tony Benn took the credit for originating the style of appearing in shirt-sleeves. "Me, I have been doing it for years," he said.

Peter York, the social commentator and co-author of the Sloane Ranger's Handbook, was unimpressed by Mr Major's stunt. "Please, Prime Minister, don't go doing it again," he implored. "Prime ministers should be buttoned up to the neck and wear spats. I like them to look smart and clean and so, I think, does most of the nation in their heart of hearts.

Andrew Neil, the famously shirt-sleeved former editor of the Sunday Times who now presents a political programme for the BBC, was yesterday anxious to distance himself from the style. "I don't want to be associated with the sartorial style of John Major," he said. "I'm putting my jacket on."

Oliver James, a clinical psychologist, felt Mr Major's sartorial stunt worked a treat. The implicit message, he said, was that the Prime Minister had nothing to hide.

"The symbol was the naked and the clothed," he said. "Clothing equals deception. Nakedness equals truth and authenticity. They were trying to draw attention to the difference between the honesty and earthiness of Major and the artifice of Blair wearing his jacket and clothing his speech in artificial rhetorical language."

Professor Cary Cooper, an occupational psychologist at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, believes Mr Major has found a format that suits his personality. "He has played to his strength, that is, folksy, down-to-earth, ordinary," Professor Cooper said.

Mr Major had struck a daring pose, he added. "It's innovative. It's saying, 'This is a party that's prepared to break the mould.' It could also be saying, 'I've got nothing to lose, we're so behind in the opinion polls. I'll just be me.'" There may be one satisfied, or semi-satisfied, customer out there: Mary Archer. The Tory peer's wife says a shirt, with the sleeves rolled up, makes a man look his sexiest.

"I don't know why it is so attractive," she said. "Something to do with hairy forearms. It means Jeffrey [her husband] is about to do some work of some sort - playing the piano or getting down to some writing."