Thinking about it, there is only one thing that my father-in-law Stanley and I really agree about: it’s the hair. His oldest son’s policies, achievements, claims (and other things) strike us both in very different ways: in Stanley’s case with a farmyard cockerel’s swelling red-breasted pride; in mine with a deep-rooted despair of the type the dwellers in the Cities of the Plain must have felt before Jehovah smote them. But we agree about the hair.
When it first went on the public stage, the hair was a glorious diversion, like Tommy Cooper’s Turkish fez, Rod Hull’s Emu or, perhaps more nobly, the playful, streaming flags and banners of the French aristocrats on the eve of Agincourt.
The blond bird’s-nest was, after all, a nod to the great British comic/ironic tradition: a public statement of its owner’s ability to see the funny side of himself in a way that Chaucer’s pompous Knight never did. It was what the FT’s How to Spend It supplement calls, in surely one of the most disgusting phrases in the language, his personal signifier.
My Northern Irish hairdresser, Colin Murphy, used to plead with me to let him at it. He believed that just half an hour in his salon could add a whole new Red Wall of electoral notches on the owner’s gold-handled cane, possibly even in Scotland.
But I knew the hair’s owner would never agree. For as it (and he) grew on the world stage, I could tell the hair was acquiring, by some mystical process, a near divine and emblematic importance – something Samson himself would have understood to the very roots of his follicles.
The hair, after all, had become an integral – no, essential – part of the package: Chamberlain’s furled umbrella, Churchill’s cigar, Wilson’s pipe. It had acquired powers to separate the wheat from the chaff, the maddening swine from the true believers, to part the Red Sea, to cut through the flab of a G7 meeting like a hot knife through a butter parting.
Like Jesse’s righteous rod, the hair smote the ungodly who saw it as no more than a massive V-sign at the bourgeois and respectable. And for those faithful who could not help but flinch a little each week at PMQs as the floating chiffon waved over the pink tonsure, it whispered: ‘You love me, even despite my flippant self.’ It was a test of their endurance that they always passed, like those Shias who whip themselves with chains to show their devotion.
Cartoonists aside, the hair even cowed the media. The leftist press, in their deep Calvinist gloom, could not bring themselves to mention it. The fussy Home Counties right were determined not to sound like Jacob Rees-Mogg’s nanny. Bufton Tuftons gulped, but dutifully swallowed. So the hair survived and thrived (indeed, it even appears to have been handed down like an heirloom to a new generation).
Until now. Surely, until now? Surely the one service No. 10’s director of communications Guto Harri can truly offer the nation in his role as image-maker is to address the great tonsorial challenge? Surely now, as Putin’s brigades warm their engines on Ukraine’s borders and Cressida Dick’s now leaderless blue horde ponder over the crumbled crisp packets of a thousand Downing Street gatherings, it is time for the hair to finally make the ultimate sacrifice?
Nothing drastic is needed, no short back and sides or US three-star general’s buzz cut: just a hint of a parting, perhaps, as a gesture to the seriousness of the times; or a very peremptory brush as a nod to the Jubilee?
The situation, after all, is increasingly bleak. The gas and electricity bills are washing like an acidic economic tide up against the foundations of the Red Wall. Genghis Hunt’s fanatical hordes of One Nation Tories have stormed the old folks’ homes of Worthing and are massing on Dominic Raab’s Kingston bypass.
Yet the briefest encounter with a comb could possibly be all that is needed to shift tens of thousands of votes. Tiverton and Honiton might remain safe from tractor-hating, killjoy Liberal Democrats. It could be the hair’s finest hour, laying down flat on the head for the good of the nation.
But I fear it is not to be. Such an act would metaphorically amount to some kind of apology – an act of obeisance to public sentiments: a submission greater even than a repudiation of Brexit itself.
No, Stanley and I must accept our fate. The hair is here to stay for the duration – or at least until the women and children are safely aboard the life rafts and the ship finally sinks beneath the waves.