Gordon Brown is wearing white tie at the Lord Mayor’s banquet tonight.
He has previously been notorious for his refusal to wear formal clothing, even for great public events like the Mansion House speech.
What can this turnaround mean?
Brown’s tailoring has improved markedly since he became Prime Minister. But the alteration has only served to make him look like everyone else. Take his adoption of the ubiquitous blue tie, a trend imported from America. It is meant to make him look “more decisive, but in a human sort of way”, according to Democratic consultant Donna Brazile. In reality, it just makes him look like David Cameron.
This political cross-dressing serves to reinforce the argument made by Peter Oborne in his recent book. The Triumph of the Political Class alleges that the governing class in Britain forms a hegemonic bloc, more dedicated to serving its own interests than it is the interests of thr voting public.
Oborne’s polemic is pretty wild, taken as a whole. But it nails one aspect of the new elite: its rigid dress code.
For Oborne, the continued preference for smart suits, even at home, expresses the duality at the heart of the Political Class:
On the one hand it is in rebellion against established customs, traditions and modes of social control which challenge its own dominance. On the other hand, by adopting its own very severe dress code, it is showing an awareness of the need to assert its own authority, and distinguish itself against the ambient population.
By refusing to dress formally for the Mansion House speech, Brown demonstrated his contempt for custom and tradition. During his time as Chancellor, the Labour government made this contempt a political reality. The attempt to ban fox-hunting was a symbolic of their disregard for what Burke called “all the decent drapery of life”.
Could today’s decision to don the robes of statesmen mark a proper recognition of the role of tradition? An end to the politics of managerialism?
Or am I just reading too much into this?