Not so very long ago it was easy to pick out the Parliamentary Labour Party’s awkward squad. Their uniform usually comprised a combination of dark-coloured slacks, tweedy green, grey or brown sports jacket (corduroy being a racier option), plus collar and tie – but nothing fancy, and strictly no cufflinks. Michael Foot, Ken Livingstone, Dennis Skinner, Bob Cryer – and, of course, Jeremy Corbyn – stood out in their dun tones as men with the requisite puritanical zeal for a socialist future.
The tie was a particularly difficult item to choose; artisanal knitted ones with horizontal bars were ideal, denoting radical instincts with a (slight) sense of fun and enthusiasm for traditional crafts; an easier option would be an official Labour, Tribune Group or trade union tie; the more retro the motif the better. In due course this code was adopted by Sinn Fein and the nationalists, and every radical politician looked like a deputy headteacher.
There were exceptions. Neil Kinnock started out conventionally, but, by 1992 his comb-over, T&G tie and pipe had been discarded in favour of a crew cut, sharp navy suit and diagonal striped tie. Tony Benn was always more shabby genteel, his habitual frayed but quality shirt being teamed with uncompromising Doc Marten shoes.
Others had their politico-fashion code too; Ken Clarke’s Hush Puppies were the outward indication of a more humane Tory. Meanwhile, we have always had peacocks of every persuasion, from the elegance of Sir Ming Campbell’s Jermyn Street shirts to the youthful verve of Chuka Umunna’s flashy neckwear and chunky wristwatch: Charles Tyrwhitt could offer them a second career as male models.
Yesterday, Mr Corbyn defied predictions that he would remain tieless when on Labour’s front bench in the Commons. Throughout his remarkable campaign he studiously avoided wearing one; but clearly he felt that his first parliamentary outing as leader was a special occasion. Our advice, however, is that he remain tieless. His mandate comes from authenticity: no point sacrificing that for mere fashion.
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