Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Modern MPs Go Naked

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Modern MPs Go Naked

Article excerpt

Often politicians are described as "bare-faced" (as in "bare-faced liar"). It's true. There are pitifully few moustaches in the Commons today. I can think of just 15; none is in the cabinet.

Peter Mandelson had a Village People moustache back in the 1980s. The Hartle-pool MP fired up his Philips Ladyshave, mowed the thing off--and his ministerial career duly failed. Ditto Stephen Byers.

Hitler and the emperor Hirohito injured the cause, as did that trimmer Lloyd George. The late and very right wing Tory MP Sir Gerald Nabarro was a waxed menace. Enoch Powell, whose moustache would be copied by numerous traffic wardens, was not an entirely positive thing either.

Respectable London has long been suspicious of moustaches. At the start of the 20th century, Regent Street drapers were forbidden them. The Bank of England banned moustaches "during working hours". But a moustache is a daring device. It bristles bloody-mindedness.

Moustaches have not flourished in British politics since Eden and Macmillan. Edward Heath preferred his men smooth and Margaret Thatcher was pogonophobic. To remain in her favour, John Selwyn Gummer had to tear off his whiskers as fast as a quick-change actor removing his Velcro trousers.

Tony Blair has been no more enthusiastic. Geoff Hoon might not have become Defence Secretary had he kept his Frank Zappa. Another minister who visited the shearers was Elliot Morley, stuck in the mud at Agriculture since 1997.

Malcolm Chisholm, ex-Edinburgh North & Leith, had a gingery ferret of a 'tache. First he quit the Labour front bench, then the Commons altogether, taking his brush with him. In 2001 we also lost West Brom's Peter Snape, whose moustache would twitch when he got wind of good gossip. Alan Meale took his John Ketley muzzer to a ministry but became entangled (a moustache wearer should know better) in some rumor scandal. …

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