Semaphore for the tongue tied

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The Independent Online
Nicholas Soames, bon viveur, toff, and old boy of Eton, proudly sported an old school tie in the Commons yesterday although, in an effort to make the Tories the people's party, the Prime Minister has declared that new Labour means old school tie. But even the Prime Minister cannot erase the importance of the tie in Westminster.

In a world where variety in suits comes in shades of grey, the tie is more than a fashion statement. It is a notice board that tells whether you are "one of us". John Major's shiny grey tie sums up his belief in the "classless" society.

The rest of his Cabinet sat on the front bench for Prime Minister's questions wearing a variety of shades which looked as though they were taken from the dowdier shelves of the Tie Rack. But defying the order to be bland, the Minister of State for Defence went on a shopping expedition for a new Old Etonian tie at his tailor's in St James's to wear when he wound up the two-day defence debate in the Commons.

As an act of defiance to the leadership, it ranked as one of the more colourful protests. The OE tie - black with a narrow light blue stripe - was set off by a starched white collar and blue shirt. Mr Soames supports the Prime Minister on almost every issue, but on the question of the old school tie, the Defence Minister decided to make a stand. Tam Dalyell, one of the two Old Etonians on the Labour benches - the other is Mark Fisher - also happened to be making his own point to his leader, Tony Blair.

The veteran MP for Linlithgow, who was the late Nicholas Ridley's fag at Eton, was wearing a green tie bearing the motif of a sheaf of corn and crossed pen with hoe - the symbol of old Labour before the red rose was introduced as the party's logo.

One of the most popular ties in the Commons carries the salmon and cucumber stripes of the Garrick. Ken Clarke used to wear it day and night, until he got fed up with the jokes about it.

Yesterday, David Shaw, the Tory MP for Dover, had a more restrained yellow and red striped tie with the Commons portcullis - the Royal Marines club of the House of Commons. As the MOD - and Mr Soames - have closed down the Marine band school at Deal in his constituency, he is wondering whether he will be allowed to go on wearing it.

Lord Mason, the former Labour defence minister, is a tie collector. He used to sport a tie carrying Royal Navy Harrier jump jets. Once, when defence spending was under a squeeze, he was able to complain: "There's more jump jets on my tie than in the Royal Navy."