Style / December 2019

Cabinet Crisis: A cautionary tale of political style

As Britain goes to the polls, Josh Sims laments the current state of political style and suggests new votes could be won from parliamentarians long passed.

Do not base your vote on the following. There are far, far more important matters at stake. But just why does Boris Johnson seem to be wearing a suit made for someone larger? And what is going on with Jeremy Corbyn’s lop-sided glasses? Such trivial concerns. “It’s not a fashion parade,” as Corbyn has noted of Parliament. “It’s a place where people are represented”. And yet one study of a few years back found that the effect of a candidate having a more competent look amounted to a swing of 13% in the voting - with voters still claiming the candidates’ appearance had nothing to do with their choice.
As the Conservative political strategist Andy Coulson’s son is said to have noted of Corbyn during the recent head-to-head election debate, “I don’t like his tie, and I don’t like his eye”. He may only be a nine-year-old but maybe he’s on to something. Presumably some style advisor has, for example, told Corbyn to only ever wear a red tie - to fly the party colours - much as Johnson, a man constitutionally unable to deviate from plain white or blue shirts, likewise typically shows a preference for blues. Both, like Trump, wear them way too long - as subliminal pointers to their masculinity perhaps. Corbyn is, at least, more inclined to occasionally ditch the tie altogether - that ‘man of the people’ moment; the political, televisual equivalent of rolling up one’s sleeves to connote getting down to work, without actually having to go to the trouble of removing one’s jacket.
And, as for the suits, plain to the point of utter innocuousness, both men look identikit middle management, both typically, sloppily, choosing to wear their jackets undone - or, as Johnson does on occasion, inexplicably, with both of his two buttons done up. Corbyn’s preference for M&S offers the sharper shoulders, at least - unlike his position on Brexit - providing something definite. Somewhat late in the day, he recently made a sartorial power play too, revealing a bespoke-made pinstripe suit - a gift from an MP - in which the stripe turns out to read ‘for the many, not the few’, even if having a suit made is decidedly the opposite.

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