Stephen McGinty: Leaders' on-the-cuff statements reveal the missing link…

I'VE often wondered at which point does a man look at his cuffs, finger the pale plastic buttons and think to himself: "They're not enough – what's missing here is some metal." Is there a point, like the passage from shorts to long trousers, when you're supposed to trade in the common button for the weighty chunk of cufflinks? If so, it's a point I've yet to reach, for I still consider them ostentatious and, like braces and red socks, a sign of a clip-on "char

For it is one small step from thinking: "hmmm – cufflinks" to wearing a salmon pink shirt or, another one that baffles me, the "window pane" shirt with the thin horizontal and vertical stripes that resemble graph paper. Shirts, to my mind, should be white or pale blue and, well, that's it.

But lets slip back to the cufflinks and what they signify. For one, they mean the wearer has moved beyond the button shirts of the schoolboy and considers himself a figure of some importance. They are an essential part of the uniform of bankers but would look out of place on a teacher. The purchase of the first shirt that requires cufflinks is crossing a Rubicon of style and social status. Buy one shirt with French cuffs and you'll invariably buy more and this means you will, by necessity, have to purchase an assortment of cufflinks. Then the question becomes: "what type of cufflinks? Brass, silver, gold, platinum with diamond studs?" It's like the escalating arms race of old, or the "wrist" race and how best to bejewel them?

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Now I understand that the function of the cufflink is to render the shirt into the same shape as the suit sleeve so that the shirt now adequately fills out the suit. Still, it does seem a lot of bother.

The reason for this sartorial ponder is political. I learned this week that only one out of the three party leaders has backed the button – can you guess which one?

You might have plumped for Gordon Brown, but since he has recently upgraded himself from working class to middle class, that rules him out. No, it was – surprise, surprise – David Cameron, the Old Etonian who probably wore cufflinks in his crib. Now this is a rather clever political statement. Think about it, if you want to demonstrate your willingness to "roll up your sleeves and get to work", it helps if you don't have to go through all the palaver of unpicking your cufflinks first then handing them to an aide.

The button has a certain "no nonsense" appeal and, ironically, it fits perfectly with the Conservative mindset. For while the cufflink dates back to the 15th century, and was later popularised by Louis XIV and his "sleeve buttons", which were buttons of coloured glass linked with a chain, while by 1715 the glass buttons had given way to pairs of two studs, often diamond and united by gold links. Yet it is a johnny-come-lately when compared to the button, which dates back, according to my extensive research (God bless Wikipedia) to 2000BC.

You just know that David Cameron has had a discussion with his team over whether to wear cufflinks or not and someone, probably the same person who suggested he model himself on Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator with his black jeans and casual jacket earlier in the campaign, has said: "Naw, ditch them." Why? Well, it is a small attempt to bring him closer to the electorate and is a half-way house between exchanging the top hat of Eton for the proletarian flat cap and has, in the process, risen him in my estimation. By how much? Well, the height of a button, of course.