Bearded Socialists told: if you want to get ahead, get a shave

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The Independent Online
New Labour is advising its parliamentary candidates to banish their beards, after polling revealed that facial hair can cost votes. But some Conservatives may actually benefit, according to one image consultant.

In training sessions across the country, television executives advising Labour candidates on how to be telegenic are recommending that facial hair should be avoided where possible.

On this, New Labour is apparently in agreement with Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton: voters regard hirsute politicians as "shifty" and "radical". Research carried out in America shows that bearded candidates receive 5 per cent fewer votes than clean-shaven opponents.

"You only have to look at Peter Mandelson (Labour MP for Hartlepool and aide to Tony Blair) and his progression up the career ladder," said a BBC insider. "He's gone from having a beard to a moustache to nothing at all. He's saying 'look, I've got nothing to hide'."

But according to image consultants, Tory politicians - and John Major in particular - may actually benefit from a bit of facial hair.

Anthea Yamey of The Image Consultancy said Mr Major should grow a moustache if he wanted to add gravitas to his image.

"I wouldn't advise him to grow a beard as he has a lot of shadow and it can look a little bit sleazy, a little bit Mafiosi. But a moustache carries a lot of different messages," she said. "If, like Mr Major, someone has a very large area between his nose and lips a moustache can look good."

Regular trimming, she warned, was essential: "The minute it covers the mouth it has a negative message. "It's the equivalent of someone putting their hand over their mouth when they speak."

Until the advent of television, facial hair was adopted by most leading politicians as a means of enhancing authority. Gladstone, Disraeli, and Lloyd George, as well as Lenin, Stalin and Hitler boasted distinctive hirsute growths and a recent attempt by Lech Walesa to lose his moustache led to nationwide disgust and concern it would affect investment in Poland.

The last bearded Cabinet minister in Britain was Labour's Sidney Webb in 1929. Labour is still the hairier party, with 33 of the House's 37 beards.

And disproving the idea that voters find all beardies untrustworthy, Robin Cook, the shadow Foreign Secretary, Frank Dobson, shadow Environment Secretary and David Blunkett, shadow Education Secretary all have a generous helping of facial hair.

But according to Mrs Yamey, they may have succeeded in spite of, rather than because of their beards. "Robin Cook's quite a small chap so a beard almost dominates him," she said. "He's got quite a lot going on in his face, with those big poppy eyes. He might benefit from having not quite as busy a beard," she said.

However, Ms Yamey warned that radical change can be dangerous. She knew of a man who had been advised to shave off his facial hair and "nearly had a nervous breakdown".