An MP describes a journalist as "totty". She tweets as much, without identifying him, and reports him to the whips. He apologises.
The exchange takes place in a semi-private arena in which matters of far greater public interest are aired, so does anyone who wasn't involved really care? Isabel Hardman's complaint is not going to wipe out sexism at a stroke. Old warhorses like Bob Stewart will not be jolted into the 20th - let alone 21st - century as a result of a slap on the wrist.
But this sort of incident is the fuel that drives the Daily Mail machine. A newspaper that appeals mostly to women, it rarely wastes an opportunity to put them in their place. And if it can do so by using women writers, under a cloak of sisterhood (paradoxically, a concept the Mail despises), so much the better.
Yes, I hear you say. We know all this. Please stop banging on about the bloody Mail.
It would be a pleasure. But for now, please bear with me.
A few years ago The Times introduced a feature in which leader writer Phil Collins, a former speechwriter for Tony Blair, would go through big-occasion political speeches, highlighting the message and reasoning underlying certain words and phrases. Reading Isabel Oakeshott's take on the Hardman-Stewart encounter, I couldn't resist having a go myself. For this is a classic of the Mail's attack-bitch genre.
The italics are the quotes from the piece highlighted in the picture above. The bits in black are SubScribe's opinion. The bits in blue are my interpretation of Oakshott's thinking
1: Strong women don't need to whine about sexist bores calling us 'totty'...
As a female political writer complains about an MP's jibe, a colleague says there are better ways to handle things
We know from the off where we're coming from: women who complain tend to "whine" or sometimes bleat. This contrasts with the language used when the Mail is unhappy about a state of affairs. It "demands" action or "calls people to account".
The "us" in the main heading establishes that Oakeshott is a strong woman; the "whine" means the jury is out on Hardman.
It is necessary to emphasise that the wayward journo in question is "female", just in case the picture didn't give us the clue. Oakeshott may swim in the same pool as Hardman, but the use of the word "colleague" suggests a closer relationship than is probably the case.
There were not only "other" ways to respond to being called totty - they were all "better". Be in no doubt, Hardman got it wrong.
2: At a glitzy party recently, I was making small-talk with a group of Westminster types...
I mix in exalted company. I know what I'm talking about.
3: Someone pinched my bum...
I'm just as attractive and desirable as Hardman.
4: As everyone in political circles knows, Sir Alan is gay and happily committed to his other half in a civil partnership, so there was no suggestion that his cheeky gesture was a come-on...
I move in political circles and am in the know. Possibly unlike you.
Never miss an opportunity to remind readers of someone's homosexuality.
Pinching someone's bottom may be a "cheeky gesture" if you are good friends. It certainly wouldn't be if you'd met only once or twice. We don't know how well Duncan knows Oakeshott.
5: It prompted some entertaining banter about the interaction between politicians and female journalists and the unwritten rules of the game.
Casual sexism is a trivial subject to be chortled over in "entertaining banter"?
Interaction between politicians and "female" journalists is part of a "game"? That has unwritten rules? Hardman is clearly unaware of this or is not playing by the rules.
Is there also a game for politicans and male journalists? Does it have rules, too?
6: "I can't get away with anything like that these days" was the rueful response of a Cabinet minister...
At least the Cabinet minister (another reminder that Oakeshott moves in the corridors of power) recognises that times have changed and that Duncan's "cheeky gesture" might have been out of order. Oakeshott sounds as "rueful" as her minister chum.
7: As the unfortunate MP who dared to describe political reporter Isabel Hardman as "totty" this week has found, not all female journalists take flirtatious behaviour in good part...
"Unfortunate" MP? Dared? We can see who is the victim here.
As we discover later, Oakeshott knows nothing of the circumstances of the exchange. There is nothing to suggest that Stewart was being flirtatious. But it is a woman's place to "take in good part" any derogatory remark a man cares to toss at her. Failing to be a good sport is a crime in Mail land.
8: I have the greatest respect for her as a journalist and commentator and am loathe to criticise a colleague, particularly another woman...
But that's what I'm paid to do.
9: I was amazed by the way Hardman handled the incident and fear she may come to regret it...
How many more times? A woman should know her place or be prepared for reprisals
10: Hardman took the drastic decision to complain to party whips...
How dare she? Is she mad?
11: It is a sensitive area, so I am treading carefully...I do not think she should have complained over what seems to have been a trivial incident...
I'm jumping in with both feet.
I think it was trivial, but I don't know. I wasn't there.
12: She could have taken him to task herself. I have no doubt he would have been mortified and would never make the same mistake again...
Poor chap. He'd have been "mortified" to learn that he'd been offensive? And after a lifetime in that hotbed of equality that is the British Army, he would have changed his attitudes had one woman put him right on his "mistake"?
If Oakeshott is in no doubt, maybe she knows Stewart personally? If she does, she is concealing a vital fact. If she doesn't, she is presumptuous.
13: Perhaps she felt this would be too embarrassing (though in my experience it is perfectly possible to get such messages across with charm)
Hardman was out of her depth. She needs lessons in handling people. I can offer friendly advice. I'm good at these things.
14: She could simply have put it about that the old git had offended her and it would quickly have got back to him
Gossip is a weapon I'd happily use.
That "mortified" chap and "unfortunate MP" from earlier on? He's now an old git.
15: She did the equivalent of running to teacher to tell tales. The MP was hauled before the whips for a dressing down.
We're back to the whining women of the heading. Women should not complain to the appropriate authority. And look at the result: the MP was "hauled" before the whips - probably dragged along between two beefy men with tattoos, his legs trailing behind. We can see who is the victim and who is the villain(ess) here.
16: At best her reaction looks humourless. At worst it looks attention seeking.
Just like people on dating sites, women at Westminster must have a GSH, be good sports and definitely not make an exhibition of themselves. And don't forget who is in the wrong here. Never mind the fact that the whole episode was about unwanted attention.
17: I know she is not like that...
My last sentence was preposterous
18: Of course I don't condone sexism in the workplace or anywhere else...
Did I go too far?
19: In theory Hardman certainly has the moral high ground...
Only in theory?
20: I can quite see why, with her intelligence, she bristled at being described as totty...
It's quite all right for men to talk about less intelligent women in such a way. They wouldn't notice or care.
21: As she has not divulged any details of the exchange, we do not know the tone in which the remark was made...
I don't know what I'm talking about
22: If it was meant lasciviously or dismissively, of course it would be insulting...
I still don't know what I'm talking about
23: Having had numerous such experiences over the years, I strongly suspect that the "culprit" was being mildly, if clumsily, flirty...
I still don't know what I'm talking about, so I'll assume the best of the bloke and the worst of the woman. After all, I've been there, done that loads of times. I know about these things.
Note the quote marks round "culprit"
24: My guess is the MP meant it as a light-hearted compliment to Hardman, rather than a slight to her impressive professional credentials...
I still don't know what I'm talking about. I wasn't there. So I'll guess. And again put the best gloss on it from the male perspective. But best I remind everyone how much I admire Hardman.
25: There is a case to be argued that she should have been pleased. After all, he expressed the inclination to talk to her over and above whoever else was there.
There was a man there and the MP chose to speak to the woman. Gosh! Fancy that!
26: If a handful of male MPs are a little more forthcoming because we wear skirts, who are we to complain?
We should be honoured they deign to talk to us.
27: I'm not suggesting female political journalists should flaunt themselves for the sake of a story...
28 Years ago a Telegraph journalist (who has long since moved on to other things) used to make a point of being scantily clad and positioning herself in the middle of the lobby...where male MPs would queue to talk to her...
See? It works. This lady has moved on to other (better?) things.
Or has she left journalism on a tide of opprobrium and unprofessionalism?
29: She used her gender to her advantage. It happens every day in workplaces up and down the country. What's the big deal?
As I said, I'm not suggesting female journalists should flaunt themselves...
30: What surprises me is that Isabel Hardman is a well-established political journalist...
More damning with faux respect
31: Surely she is too clever to be offended by a flippant comment from some old fart?
Only silly people take offence when people are rude to them?
Flippant comment? Didn't we establish earlier that Oakeshott did not know anything about the tone of the remark?
32: The sadness is that male MPs will be a little more guarded next time they talk to her, and no doubt the rest of us...
I'm worried that if I don't write this sort of tosh, no one will feed me stories about Prime Ministers and pigs.
33: I suggest she smiles sweetly, issues a cutting rebuke and remember...we usually have the last laugh
Women should always smile sweetly.
And of course Ms Oakeshott laughed all the way to the bank with that unsourced story about the pig.
Finally, for another view of the encounter, try this from Gaby Hinsliff of the Guardian