There are many reasons to criticise Mr Corbyn but the manufactured row about his modest bow at the Cenotaph is really not one of them. It is quite true that, with its limp and unspoken reference to a former Labour leader who destroyed his own reputation as one of the greatest parliamentary rhetoricians of the modern era with a silly wardrobe miscalculation, it makes a much better headline than Corbyn’s attack on General Sir Nicholas Houghton.
Mrs Thatcher, whatever opinion might prevail today in the disturbed bowels of the V&A, never made a wardrobe gaff in her political career. That alone is reason to rejoice and I think we should be given a chance to celebrate her choice. I remember a wonderful interview with the Lady where she explained how she matched and mixed her outfits and adjusted the hems to suit the prevailing fashion. She believed in costume change, and a fresh look, but she also knew how important it was to project the right image. Another Politician who understands this is the current first Minister in Scotland who has the personality, in addition, to carry off bold colours with aplomb! I wish that Mrs Merkel and Mrs Clinton, whose understanding of wardrobe is fairly dire, would take more notice of the way others have taken advice and who recognise the power of a public image.
As Mr Foot found out and Mr Corbyn is discovering, if a politician fails to offer an appropriate photo opportunity, one will be provided for them. In today’s world, it is not the soud-bite but the photo opportunity rather than what is said, that is of importance. We have become a very visual world. It is arrogance to assume that what is said is of greater importance than what we look like, or how, and where we spoke. The great politicians of the 20th Century already knew this- Churchill, John Paul II, Kennedy, Reagan, Wilson and Blair were masters of the image, and because they got the image right, their words were remembered. No one remembers today what Mr Heath or Mr Callaghan ever said. It’s an effort, indeed, to remember what they looked like. But I bet we remember the bushy eyebrows of Denis Healey, enough to make the butler in Downton look fairly manicured.
As for the Donkey Jacket- well, Mr Foot actually looked uncomfortable in that as well. Mrs Thatcher could have worn the Donkey jacket and got away with it. Mr Foot could not, and nor can Mr Corbyn. They lack the theatrical or televisual vocabulary that is the key to communication today and they belong to an earlier era.
Here is a picture in the meantime-