The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: Aertex shirts and slacks can fuel a Tory comeback

Share
Related Topics
Disturbing news, indeed. I refer, of course, to last week's front- page shock report that the powers-that-be in the Conservative hierarchy are urging us all to "dress down" before going on the dread gogglebox.

Mr Alan Duncan, it appears, has already chosen to present himself on BBC's Question Time wearing little but an open-necked shirt and a blazer. We are assured by Central Office that the public-at-large responds well to politicians who follow his lead and dress as nancy-boy cocktail waiters from the local Pontin's. Taking a leaf from the Duncan book, poor old William Hague is now threatening to appear on Channel 4 News wearing nothing but his polka-dot bathing trunks and a lightweight sun-shirt, knotted in a bow around the navel. Meanwhile, the Euro-fanatics, stung by this two-pronged attack, are preparing to give as good as they get: Michael Heseltine is arguing the case for the euro on Panorama clad in an Aertex shirt, shorts and sandals, whilst my old friend and quaffing partner Kenneth Clarke has thrown off his trademark Hush Puppies and crumpled suit for something a little warmer, a little cosier: when he appears on Newsnight on Tuesday week arguing for closer co-operation with Brussels, he will be in his fluffy pink household slippers, plus matching scarlet dressing-gown with voter-friendly see-through sleeves.

But I wonder whether this more relaxed approach is all that it is cracked up to be. It has been tried before and found wanting. Back in the early 1960s, when good old Harold Macmillan was feeling the likes of the hip young Harold Wilson breathing down his back, he employed my old chum Godfrey Smith to "brighten up" his image. I don't suppose many of us who were there will ever forget the famous Tory party conference when to a fanfare from Lonnie Donnegan, on came Harold Macmillan, his famous moustache now shaven into a more trendy "Zapata" look, his old three-piece tweed suit thrown to one side in favour of a more dashing combination of drainpipe trousers, winkle-picker shoes and all-black "polo" neck.

Sitting behind him on the platform, his deadly rival Quintin Hogg could be seen applauding vociferously, yet the eagle-eyed among us could detect a look of unabashed envy playing over his face. The very next day, Quintin took to the platform for the law-and-order debate with his scant hair freshly dyed and moulded into an Elvis-style quiff, his body clad in an all-too revealing Lurex jump-suit. Small wonder that even the normally taciturn Alec Douglas-Home should have felt impelled to don an Afro wig and plimsolls for his contribution to the Foreign Affairs policy discussion.

But this display of modernity cut little ice with our discerning old friend, Joe Public Esq. In the '64 election, we Tories were given the proverbial boot, and the more soberly dressed socialists remained in power for seven years. It taught me a major lesson in the art of politics, a lesson that today's up-and-coming young Conservatives might do well to heed: the ordinary decent British punter likes to look up to his political masters. He prefers his MP or his Prime Minister to wear a beautifully cut suit, a strong, manly tie (no flowers in the design, if you please!), matching socks, preferably dark, and a decent, tassel-free pair of sensible walking-shoes. He most certainly does NOT expect him to wear a grubby T-shirt, a nipple-ring, and a silk-effect "posing pouch" (dread garment!).

Of course, they're all at it now, as my Ould Granny Arnold would say. I have never been a Heath man, save for those few years when he was in power, but I would always have relied upon him to observe the niceties of sartorial etiquette. Yet only last week I bumped into Sir Edward emerging from Albany in a lime-green silk blouson of some sort, extravagantly flared jeans and a feng shui chime pendant around his neck. I greeted him coldly, and inquired what on earth he was wearing. "The more casual look is all the rage in the party, Wallace," he explained, "and as the Father of the House, one feels one should set an example." Where will it end? One hears dreadful rumours that even poor old Margaret T has succumbed. Lecturing at the University of Wisconsin last week, she turned up in gingham slacks and a Bart Simpson T-shirt, having swapped her traditional handbag for what I believe is known as a "bum-bag" (dread item!).

This would never have happened were Enoch still alive. As Mr Simon Heffer records in his magisterial new biography of the man, it was discovered only after his death that Enoch wore a collar and tie not only on his shirt but upon his underpants as well. It is not everything that has changed for the better, I fear.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Regional Gas Installation Manager - South East England

£36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Regional Gas Installation Manager is r...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service and Breakdown Engineer - South East

£29000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Service and Brea...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Recruitment Genius: Engineering Manager - Alconbury

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for an Engineering M...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the old Palace of Westminster; Batman vs Superman; and more Greenery

John Rentoul
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee