When one's crowning glory becomes a defoliating dome

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Sitting up in the Gods while MPs struggle far below gives many of us in the press gallery a false sense of our own superiority. When the action flags, our critical attention turns to what they're wearing, who's asleep and - in my case yesterday - their hair-dos.

Not that this is by any means a waste of time. Professors of dermatology and the scions of hairdressing chains would do well to flock to the public gallery and gaze down upon the many strategies adopted by male members for dealing with the ravages wrought by time. They might learn something.

True, some brave MPs adopt no strategy at all, their bare patches growing at random, like holes in a neglected lawn. They thus declare their unworldliness and lack of vanity to those who watch them. Many are intellectuals.

Others do little more than alter their partings, combing longer strands over the worst-affected areas. But, as the years pass, these partings - a bit like sections of the East Anglian coast - slip gradually further down the side of the head, to eventual destruction.

For the more self-aware members this seems an appalling fate. So some of them - the trendy realists - adopt what might be termed "designer baldness". They have their remaining hair cut incredibly short, so that they may be seen as authors of their own destinies, rather than just helpless hormonal victims. Such chaps are almost invariably New Labour.

Then there are the radical traditionalists, one of whom is the Deputy Prime Minister himself, Michael Heseltine. No, I'm not joking. If you sit just above him, with the sun streaming down from the skylights, supplemented by the electric bulbs in the chamber, you see what he has done. The famous mane is swept from the front and sides, and shaped into a point at the back - carefully covering a defoliating crown.

Finally - and most extreme of all - there is Michael Fabricant, whose head is covered by a material thicker (but rather less hair-like) than the upholstery of the Commons' benches. In Deputy Prime Minister's question time yesterday afternoon, the hairies took on the follicularly challenged. John Prescott and his team might almost have been chosen for the vigour of their keratenous output. He and his merry band (Peter Mandelson and Derek Foster) all have hairlines that begin just above the eyes.

The thinning Hezza, by contrast, is assisted by the professorial, young David Willetts, who has simply not noticed - while contemplating the future of Conservatism - that his head has been getting cold.

As usual the session was completely without rancour, Hezza and Prezza swapping a series of jokes and smiles which even Buzz-saw Arnold (hirsute) failed to disrupt.

But my eye had been caught by Denis MacShane (New Labour, des. bald). In the space of 20 minutes Mr MacShane asked two questions and raised one point of order. The MP for Rotherham has not heard the old advice that nobody likes a smartarse, so he always speaks in tones of mingled pity and condescension. This time, as the tempo of his performance (I forget about what) picked up, so the dandyish red hankie in the breast pocket of his expensive suit dislodged itself, making it look as though one of his colleagues - irked beyond endurance by his air of superiority - had finally shot him.

On my way out I overheard Michael Fabricant (upholstered) remind Jeremy Hanley (hairy, Overseas Aid minister) of the good work done by Severn Trent Water in the Third World.

The company - which recently advised its customers to conserve water by paving over their lawns - had, according to Mr Fabricant, "adopted Ethiopia". Was this, I wondered, the apotheosis of Fabricant - an open space the size of Europe entirely covered with an artificial substance?

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