We are told that in today’s 24/7 news frenzied world style has displaced substance. The world is now visual and the sound bite has been replaced by the picture nibble. We are bombarded with images that are meant to define everyone and everything. This is as true in British Politics as anywhere else. We should want smart politicians in the sentient, not sartorial sense yet we obsess about their dress choices.
But dumbing down isn’t new. And you know what, I’m not averse to defining politicians by what they wear.
The latest to come under the fashionista’s microbitch is Jeremy Corbin, who for those of you lucky enough not to be living through the interminable Labour Party leadership election is the favourite to claim the crown. A lot of sage commentators tell us he will enliven the debate, bring challenging concepts to what has become a narrow fight over the crowded middle ground. But that isn’t his real contribution. No, he is restoring to British politics those long lost jewels of the hand knitted jumper, the polyester shirt, socks mismatched with sandals and nearly lost but not forgotten windcheater.
But don’t think this is new. Oh no. If I look at the leading politicians since I was aware of the same, circa 1964 we have had
Harold Wilson and his Gannex Coat, a truly unmemorable garment that even the V&A haven’t the heart to display
Ted Heath and his cute sailor’s garb – not exactly Vlad the Putin in the toned torso department – about which possibly the least said given current rumours.
Margaret Thatcher and those shoulder pads (sorry this pic is just scary) – essentially making her more masculine when a few feminine graces wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Michael Foot who restored national pride with his cunning use of a donkey jacket as the ultimate vote loser
John Major whose skill in wearing his underpants outside his trousers presaged a decade of gangly bespotted youth trying and failing to carry off this look with John’s panache
Tony Blair who sported drab utilitarian suits, yet wore his convictions with a hubristic pride the rest of us could have done without.
And dear Gordon Brown whose contribution was in the frozen dentures department, proving that trying to accessorize with your teeth doesn’t make you warm.
For those of you with long memories you will realise I have omitted to Welshmen: Jim Callaghan who presided over a painful few years in the late 1970s and Neil Kinnock who tried vainly to usurp Mrs T in the 80s and John M in the 1990s. Possibly that’s because neither tried too hard – or maybe it’s because to me they both seemed rather sad at ho things turned out.