Wearing a cravat is ultimately a question of class

Kilroy failed to see that, for a certain kind of Englishman, a cravat stands for a way of life
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The Independent Online

It is time for stirring new rallying cries to quicken the pulse of voters as they prepare for the great electoral battle that lies ahead. "An end to world poverty!" says Tony Blair. "An end to too many foreigners in our country!" says Michael Howard. "An end to unfairness, inequality and anything that's nasty!" Charles Kennedy will almost certainly say.

It is time for stirring new rallying cries to quicken the pulse of voters as they prepare for the great electoral battle that lies ahead. "An end to world poverty!" says Tony Blair. "An end to too many foreigners in our country!" says Michael Howard. "An end to unfairness, inequality and anything that's nasty!" Charles Kennedy will almost certainly say.

And now, Britain's newest party Veritas has nailed its colour to the mast before the Spring offensive. "An end to cravats!" says Robert Kilroy-Silk.

This man is such a political chump that he should be declared a national treasure and kept in political life as an amusing sideshow. Every move that he has made in public life has been a useful reminder of what can happen to a person whose brain has been rotted by appearing too often on TV.

From writing asinine articles about limb-amputating Arabs, to shouting "Oi! Oi!" to attract the attention of the speaker in the European Parliament, to joining and then leaving UKIP in a huff because he was not wanted as leader, the Kilroy way of doing things has been consistently and entertainingly wrong-headed and stupid.

Since he began to entertain ideas that he could contribute to our political life, Kilroy-Silk has attempted to counter his image as an android from Planet Bland by presenting himself as a bit of a bruiser, a character. Now, fatally, he has gone for humour.

At Veritas headquarters (his front room), a senior party policy adviser (his wife) must have mentioned that the party where he roosted briefly tended to appeal to blazered, middle-management types who drink g-and-t's at the 19th hole while chuntering on about Johnny Foreigner, regional accents on the BBC and the ghastly four-letter men who go into politics these days. In a misguided attempt at mockery, Kilroy identified the one aspect of these people which, he believed, would be amusing: some wear cravats.

A clumsy sort of code is being deployed here. Kilroy likes to present himself as a man of the people who made his own way up from the slums of Birmingham. The reference to cravats is as clear an incitement to class contempt as would be the mention of grouse moors by a Labour traditionalist or of cloth cap and whippets by a Tory peer.

In his eager, blundering way, Kilroy appears to be telling us all that the party to which he once belonged is old-fashioned and class-ridden. He judged that, while sneering at upper-class twits or working-class yobs may no longer be acceptable among politicians, sneering at a certain type of bufferish Englishman was just fine.

As usual, he misjudged the situation. A side effect of the success of New Labour has been that, over the past decade, a superficial classlessness has become de rigueur among politicians. Until then, the social background of their senior figures played an important, if unspoken, part in the way political parties presented themselves and in the way people voted.

Although the Labour Party has always had a few left-leaning toffs among its leadership, its heart, until recently, was in the union movement that once made it strong. For the Conservatives, class was an altogether trickier area. It was all very well dumping the tweedy, Douglas-Home image of the past, but the party's response to Heath and Major, the jokes about their vowels, suggested that snobbery lived on among the rank and file.

The classless society announced by Major arrived with Blair - or at least in Westminster it did. In today's Labour Party, the union connection is played down; even rough-hewn traditionalists like Prescott have become smoother, more metropolitan. The opposition floundered about for while, opting first for a bluff Yorkshireman and then a former Guards officer, before giving in to the new classlessness. These days, it is Tories who talk with an overtly old-school accent whose careers are likely to be affected.

The trouble is that while politicians may have gathered in the same great wine bar in which more or less everyone speaks and dresses in the same way, the country has lagged behind. Out there, class may be ailing but it is not dead.

Poor old Kilroy failed to see that, for a certain kind of Englishman and his lady wife, a cravat stands for a way of life and a set of values that are not entirely contemptible. The appearance of a party led by chaps with names like Nigel, Gerard and Godfrey who spoke for the old country and distrusted abroad, reassured them that they were not alone. They voted for UKIP out of instinct and class solidarity, knowing that the party stood in some vague way for the standards of the cravat-wearing classes everywhere.

It is not a despicable point of view. As a former cravat-wearer myself, I can vouch that they are a comfortable, if not terribly attractive, form of neckwear. The rumour that cravats restrict the flow of blood to the brain and can, in the long term, cause mental feebleness to those wearing them is almost certainly untrue.

What Kilroy forgot was that appealing to the cravatistes of British society was virtually his only chance of getting elected. Now, having managed to insult them, he looks certain to fall heavily on his Veritas and disappear, sadly for many of us, from public life.

terblacker@aol.com

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