New Labour, new tailor

Fashion-wise, it seems William Hague is to take a leaf out of Tony Blair's book. Don't do it, begs Cayte Williams

As a nation, we love a shabby underdog. Ken Livingstone, Ossie Clarke, Woofie. And as a nation we hate smarmy. We pride ourselves on the fact that (unlike our gullible American cousins) we can spot a spiv a mile off. No shifty geezers get past us, we cry. That's why we're starting to get suspicious about these New Labour salesmen: Mandelson with his greasy slick hair-do, Blair with his double-glazed smile, Campbell with his "don't bother with the small print" bovver-boy charm.

All three represent that New Labour Look, turned out nicely in smart suits, ties with knots a little bit too tight and shoes just a little too shiny. They'd all probably use their mobile phones too much on the 125. It's not a good look.

For all we know, Mandelson might wear Gap fleeces off-duty and actually care whether Pinochet gets it. But, boy, are we living in an age when politicians have to get fashed-up.

All these stylish MPs need somewhere to pose, so from January there will be Congress, a new membership dining club in Westminster where politicians, styled within an inch of their constituencies, will be able to lounge around on Bill Amberg leather banquettes and appreciate the Vivienne Westwood staff uniforms.

But isn't this all a bit boring? Rows upon rows of the same suits - boys in Paul Smith, girls in Richards shops. One of the reasons Londoners want Ken for mayor is that we know you can always trust a man with knee-creases in his trousers.

Which, sartorially, brings us to the opposition. If the Tories have anything going for them it's eccentricity. How we miss Ken Clarke's Hush Puppies! How we mourn Douglas Hurd's Mr Whippy perma-waves! But even that last bastion of conservatism is under threat. William Hague, perhaps the closest one of John Major's garden gnomes will ever get to power, is giving in to the style police. The Independent reports that he has succumbed to "an image makeover under the careful tutelage of John Morgan, an associate editor of GQ magazine and the editor of Debrett's New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners. Is William taking a leaf out of Tony Blair's book? Will he hire a celebrity hairdresser? Or rush to a hip tailor from New Savile Row, like Ozwald Boateng or Timothy Everest?

Not if he's got any sense. Hague should hang on to his natural naffness. It's certainly attracted some fashion types. Katharine Hamnett, noted for attending a Thatcher bash at Number Ten wearing an anti-nuke T-shirt circa 1985, has decided that the Tories are hip. "The Conservatives are classic style," she said in the Guardian, while Labour she dismisses as "a passing fad".

Hague has one big handicap in the style stakes. Mandelson, Campbell and Brown are all, broadly speaking, lookers. William Hague is not. He's balding and has no eye-lashes, and should avoid Enforced Style at all costs unless it is completely his own. Old fogey is better than Old Trendy (remember Neil Kinnock's foray into fashion with the help of Lynne Franks? It was not a pretty sight). Put Will in a pinstriped suit and he would look like an albino penguin on a hit and run from Gieves & Hawkes.

The fashion press aren't optimistic. According the Independent, Hague looks like "the sort of man who owns a Corby trouser press." So how about some advice? "Chop his head off or get cosmetic surgery," said Vogue's fashion director, Marcus von Ackermann in the Sunday Times, before advising a spot of Jean-Paul Gaultier menswear. Fashion eccentric Isabella Blow wasn't much use either. "Anything by the designers Keupr/Van Bentm would be perfect for him," she oozed. "They specialise in wrapping the body up, almost as you would a Christmas present. He would look marvellous in their glittery stockings."

Meanwhile, the Observer paid a visit to Tony Blair's suit guru, Malcolm Levene. No doubt William digested the article over brunch. The deluxe tailor believes that "Fashion is thoughtless; style is a philosophy". Apparently, when you go for a Levene fitting you get more than a tape measure and a few chalk markings. "I want you to find out who you are," he said to journalist Nicci Gerrard. "I can tap into things you may not be aware of... I am observant. I go deeper than the surface." Blimey, if him and Campbell get together we could have a Westminster Waco on our hands.

So what does Levene think of old Haguey the Fogey's foray into fashion? "It will be a quick fix and it will look like it," he predicted. Let Will and Ffion be the style eccentrics of Westminster. Let him wear his baseball cap the right way round. Let her wear chopsticks in her hair. The only way the camp couple are going to woo us is with some Sid and Nancy charm. Sid James and Nancy Griffiths, that is. Just give us anything as long as it's not Blair Good Taste Inc.

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