Handshakes are a symbolic and powerful gesture, it was poor of Sadiq Khan to leave Susan Hall waiting - Sarah Todd

Handshakes are a hugely important gesture. On a basic level they convey a warm welcome, an intention to try and get along. Then there are deeper meanings, such as trust when striking a deal, and a willingness to put the past behind us and turn over a new page.

History is punctuated - remember that word it appears again at the end of this column - with symbolic handshakes. There was the late Queen Elizabeth shaking hands with Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister (and former IRA leader) Martin McGuinness in Belfast in June 2012. Of course, a gesture made all the more poignant considering the backstory of Her Majesty’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten, having been assassinated by the IRA back in the 1970s.

When, in 1994 after 46 years of apartheid and 27 years spent in jail, Nelson Mandela was elected the first black President of South Africa he shook hands with outgoing President, Frederik Willem de Klerk. Photographs from the day, clearly showing de Klerk’s reluctance and Mandela being the bigger man, remain awe-inspiring.

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Former movie star turned President of the United States of America, Ronald Reagan, played a huge role in history when he met and shook hands with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva back in November 1985.

Labour's Sadiq Khan is re-elected as the Mayor of London, at City Hall, London. PIC: Jeff Moore/PA WireLabour's Sadiq Khan is re-elected as the Mayor of London, at City Hall, London. PIC: Jeff Moore/PA Wire
Labour's Sadiq Khan is re-elected as the Mayor of London, at City Hall, London. PIC: Jeff Moore/PA Wire

The capitalist and the communist were an unlikely pairing, but warmth and good intention radiate from that first handshake and together they negotiated a landmark deal in 1987 to scrap intermediate-range nuclear missiles. As an aside, Reagan had previously branded the Soviet Union as the “evil empire” but he had a rethink after his friend, then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, declared in 1984: “I like Mr Gorbachev. We can do business together.”

But back to where we started, the symbolism of handshakes.

It was absolutely awful to see photographs and video footage of the moment the Tory candidate in the election for Mayor of London appeared to be snubbed as she went to shake Sadiq Khan's hand.

Susan Hall, who lost out to Labour’s Khan, extended her hand in congratulation but was left ‘hanging’ as the younger generation say.

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It was only on the second, or maybe third, time Ms Hall appeared to say “well done” that he finally turned and shook her hand while looking like he had swallowed a wasp. In his acceptance speech he did not acknowledge her in any way, unlike Ms Hall who in her concession speech congratulated him on his victory.

Does it matter? Yes, it does. People up on the political stage are supposed to set an example, to show common courtesy and basic good manners. If they don’t, how can we then expect the rest of the nation to treat each other with respect?

It often seems that traditional values of politeness, patience, and consideration for others have been replaced. A complete shift in human behaviour towards a more selfish society.

Sport is another area that standards sometimes seem to have slipped in this regard. Football is not really on this correspondent’s radar but recent images of managers having spats on the sidelines have been wrong on so many levels.

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Whatever they think of each other, or how the game has gone, they should always shake hands and set an example with their behaviour.

An example to the players in their team, to the fans watching and the wider world. Same goes for surly tennis players or anybody else who is not man - or woman - enough to hold out their hand to an opponent.

Anyway, moving away from handshakes, in another sign of standards slipping downhill it has been announced that North Yorkshire council is ditching the punctuation point.

From now on, all new street signs would be produced without apostrophes.

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Residents have been right to kick up a stink about it, with one example in Harrogate hitting the BBC news.

There has been a new sign installed at St Mary’s Walk in the town, but it has not been given the dignity of its apostrophe. Some wag had graffitied the correct punctuation on with a marker pen.

In its defence, the authority has said it is not the first to opt to “eliminate” the apostrophe from street signs.

Its reasoning is that when street names and addresses are stored in computer databases “special characters” such as apostrophes can cause problems in the system.

Does it matter? Yes, it does. Just as not shaking hands sets the wrong tone, so does not keeping standards up with correct grammar.

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