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February 21, 2007

Christie Davies asks, have recent Tory leaders lost elections because they were bald? From Major to Minor!: A satirical look at the last five Tory leaders through political cartoons at the Political Cartoon Gallery

Posted by Christie Davies

From Major to Minor!: A satirical look at the last five Tory leaders through political cartoons
Political Cartoon Gallery
32 Store Street, London, WC1E 7BS
31st January - 17th March 2007
Monday - Friday 9.30am - 5.30pm, Saturday 11.30am - 5.30pm
Free Admission

Christie Davies is appalled at the way cartoonists have been able to destroy British Conservative leaders merely by deriding their baldness. Politics has become a mere matter of manipulating trivial personal images and hair or no hair is the key to it. He is horrified by their unthinking use of anti-Semitic imagery in depicting Michael Howard but revels in their mockery of the made-to-look-effeminate Cameron.

Before 1997 Austen Chamberlain was the only leader of the Conservative Party never to become a Prime Minister. In the last ten years there have been three Tory leaders who failed to become Prime Minister - William Hague, Something Duncan-Smith, and Michael Howard. It is a story not just of Conservative failure but of the decline of British electoral politics from being about policies - the economy, war, crime, immigration, education, health - to being about image - about the appearance of the leader, about whether he looks young, handsome and endowed with a good head of hair.

Curiously, it doesn't seem to matter what women leaders look like. Men will cheerfully vote for a handbag swinging old bat like Angela Merkel, who looks like their mother-in-law. It is only women who vote for sex; Joynson-Hicks (Jix) should never have given the flappers the vote in 1928. The proof of what I say lies in the Tories selection of pretty-boy Cameron as leader simply to get the female vote, a man lacking in judgement, intelligence or any of the attributes of the statesman, a mere matinee idol, a TV celeb. That will close the gender gap.

As we can see from the cartoons, the fatal weakness of the recent Tory leaders who did not make it to be P.M. was their baldness, a real turn-off for women. Baldy Hague, Baldy Duncan-Smith, and Baldy Howard were all a gift to cartoonists, especially the Mekon-like Hague.

The cartoonists all latched onto, stressed and exaggerated this trivial aspect of the man they were attacking, precisely because they knew it had become electorally important for one half of the population.

Let us consider the facts and place them in a historical context. The last truly bald man to become Prime Minister was Winston Churchill in 1951. After that, the rise of television ensured that no bald man would ever win again. Before television few people really cared whether a leader was bald or not; it isn't something that comes across very vividly on the radio or in print. It is the glare of the television lights on the hideous hoop of a hairless head that highlights baldness, that awful signal in men of grotesque ugliness, penetrating intellect, premature ageing and total absence of sex-appeal. Here are the rivals and their hair for all elections:

Winner: Eden - Hair
Loser: Attlee - Very Bald

Winner: Macmillan - Hair
Loser: Gaitskill - Bald

Winner: Wilson - Hair
Loser: Douglas Home - Very Bald

Winner: Wilson - Hair
Loser: Heath - Hair

Winner: Heath - Hair
Loser: Wilson - Hair

Winner: Wilson - Hair
Loser: Heath - Hair

Winner: Thatcher - Hair
Loser: Callaghan - Balding

Winner: Thatcher - Hair
Loser: Foot - Balding

Winner: Thatcher - Hair
Loser: Kinnock - Very Bald

Winner: Major - Hair
Loser: Kinnock - Very Bald

Winner: Blair - Hair
Loser: Major - Hair

Winner: Blair - Hair
Loser: Hague - Very Bald

Winner: Blair - Hair
Loser: Howard - Bald

In addition, Duncan-Smith resigned because he was very, very, very bald and Blair who is now rapidly going bald is about to stand down in favour of Gordon Brown who has a good head of hair. There is a very good correlation between being a baldy and being a loser. Bye bye, baldy. Baldy, bye bye!

It is a new phenomenon, for prior to 1955, the year in which Britain's moral decline began, many of our Prime Ministers had been bald - Attlee and Churchill were remarkably bald and many of the others were seriously deficient in locks, clearly not the key to success in those times.

In earlier centuries an equality was imposed on men by the wearing of formal wigs by bald and haired alike. They were not worn for reasons of cleanliness or convenience but in imitation of Louis XIV of France, who went bewigged, after going spectacularly bald at a young age. It was because of his shining dome that he was known as le roi soleil. One of his more myopic mistresses had been known to address her bedroom remarks to his bottom or his chamber pot by mistake. Something had to be done, as we know from reading Chaucer.

The King took to wearing a long wig, and the French court copied him. This is quite usual when the monarch has a minor deformity such as baldness. When François I of France had his head shaved after his hair was burned off at a drunken twelfth night revel in 1521 and then also chose to grow a beard, all his courtiers did the same. The courtiers of King Christian IV of Denmark all wore their hair in a marlock (a plait, like a cross between a pigtail and a dreadlock) because the king suffered from the Polish hair disease, plica polonica, and had to dress his hair in this way.

The ladies at the court of Queen Elizabeth I drank lemon juice and even vinegar to look sallow-yellow like the ageing queen and at the court of Queen Alexandra (wife of Edward VII) they affected an "Alexandra limp" of John Cleese proportions, because the queen had one.

In a hierarchical society even the national defects of the powerful are adopted and imitated, not as mockery but as status by association. Status trumps stigma. It is only in an egalitarian socity like ours that baldness becomes universally ludicrous in persons of high standing and stigma beats status.

Such was the fashionableness of late seventeenth and eighteenth century France, that when Louis XIV became a wiggy, so did all the other kings, courts and elites of Europe. Judges and barristers in Britain remain wigged to this day as a symbol of their elite status and to tell us that they are absurd anachronisms. In the eighteenth century young and old alike shaved or cropped their heads and wore wigs on top; wigs were the great leveller of age and attractiveness, the common sheitlpunkte of the bald and the haired (haired is the special word used by those in the bald community to describe men with hair).

During the secure age of Bible based faith after the Reformation, no one had dared to make fun of the bald, because they knew full well the fate of those young hoodies who mocked the prophet Elisha, the only bald man in the entire Bible:

He [Elisha] went up from there to Bethel. As he was travelling up the road, some boys came out of the city and made fun of him saying, "Go on up, baldy! Go on up, baldy!" When he turned around and saw them he called God's judgement down on them. Two female bears came out of the woods and ripped forty two of the boys to pieces.
[2 Kings 2: 23-27]
This truly inspiring Bible story, a better rebuke for impudent youth than any ASBO, must have had a great impact, because it comes immediately after the assumption of the prophet Elijah into Heaven, so that Elijah, like Enoch, never died. It could be construed as an instruction for all time.

But after the fall of the Bible believing round-head Commonwealth and the restoration of Charles II, respect for and knowledge of the Bible declined and bald-headed men like the philosopher Hobbes were mercilessly mocked by young cavaliers in ringlets. It led Hobbes to develop his embittered superiority theory of humour as mockery, as a "sudden glory" in one's own superiority over another's defects. Hobbes' baldness is the key to an entire understanding of his political philosophy. To be bald is to suffer from gelotophobia, to fear being laughed at; to fear being laughed at is to fear disorder; to fear disorder is to embrace absolutism. The coming of wigs must have come as a great relief to such as Hobbes. Louis XIV's wig was the very symbol of absolutism; he wore a wig and so did everyone else.

As the bourgeoisie rose in influence in England so wigs became simpler and after William Pitt the younger imposed a heavy tax on wig-powder, wig wearing rapidly declined. In France it collapsed with the Revolution. Such is the wig view of history.

The late nineteenth century and the turn of the twentieth century was the great age of the bald headed leaders, the era of Gladstone, Disraeli, Salisbury, Balfour, Campbell-Bannerman, egg-heads all. Baldness signified solidarity and stability, intellect and integrity, the qualities valued by an electorate from which all women and those men without a claim to respectability were excluded. Baldness be my friend. Even today, we prefer baldness in a (male) bank-manager, headmaster or solicitor because it signifies these virtues; besides his moon-headed ugliness ensures that he will not try to seduce your daughter or use a client's money to run a fancy woman on the side. Blessed are the bald and dull for they shall be trusted.

Contemporary politics isn't like that. Today, politics is the art of the impossible. It is as ephemeral and illusionary as the television through which voters experience it. Baldness and television are incompatible.

Cartoonists knew this. They used it to kill off William Hague, the best Tory leader since Mrs Thatcher, a man of intelligence, wit and principle. The nastiest of these are Martin Rowson's A truly worthy successor to Alan Clark, in the Guardian, showing that fat-lipped Hispanic, Señor Miguel Por-tee-yo looking sideways at a pimple on the enormous bulge that is the upper part of Hague's head and saying, "Phwoar, what a magnificent tit". We see Portillo, head and shoulders, but Hague only from the eyes up.

In 2000 Rowson was to use the same image in another Guardian cartoon "Why's Everyone Running Away?", the words spoken by Hague as he lights a long fuse connected to his huge Mekon-black bomb shaped head while the other Conservative politicians, led by Portillo, leg it. Elsewhere Hague's head is a cratered moon with his scared squashed face being eclipsed by the shadow of a Blair with hair. Curiously the stress on his baldness makes the tall, six-foot plus, champion wrestler, Hague look very undersized, rather like the cartoons of an earlier generation of the bald-headed Lord Beaverbrook. Beaverbrook at five foot nine was about the average height for a middle class person of his generation (and much taller than Churchill) but the cartoonists turned him into a Giftzwerg, a poison dwarf, by stretching his brow and squashing his face.

In cartoons a high brow usually signifies brains, in contrast to the stupidity, often ethnic, of the long upper lip, or the oversized jaw, but it didn't work for poor Iain Duncan-Smith, the quiet man who was quiet because he had nothing to say. In Steve Bell's The Quiet Man Speaks, 11th October, 2002 we see Duncan-Smith at the podium in a cartoon of two frames. In frame one IDS says, "Lets face it we were crap". In frame two he adds, "But we can be crap again". The sad thing is that you can really imagine Duncan-Smith saying it. We see "quietman" Duncan-Smith again in a cartoon of his resignation by Paul Thomas in the Daily Express, coming out of Conservative Party Headquarters; a huge speech bubble emerges from his mouth and in the centre in tiny letters it reads "Goodbye".

Michael Howard's baldness is cleverly incorporated into a cartoon by Martin Rowson "The Perils of Politicking in the gutter", showing Howard as a melting octopus subsiding down a kerbside drain. It is very clever but nonetheless unpleasant, as are the many cartoons of the Jewish Howard as a Transylvanian vampire bat or as a devil-monster, which have a whiff about them of the anti-Semitic cartoons in Der Stürmer.

I am not, for one moment, suggesting that cartoonists for the left-wing press are anti-Semitic, merely that they are so lacking in historical awareness and intellectual sophistication as not to see the connections. Remember the buffoon of a cartoonist who showed Ariel Sharon eating babies because he knew nothing of the "blood libel" about Jews sacrificing Christian children? We should not judge left-liberal cartoonists too harshly; they have not had the same advantages in life that educated people have enjoyed.

Still at least the lefties have the measure of the inane, silly, full head of hair David Cameron and his absurd obsession with image. Martin Rowson shows him at the Tory Party Conference as Basil Fotherington-Thomas (from Molesworth) in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit singing "Hello Trees, Hello Clouds" in front of a bill-board that proclaims at a Tory Party conference "Hello Sky, Hello Flowers". The audience in the hall, though, is chanting

String 'em up.
Sell it off.
String 'em up.
Sell it off.
But what is wrong with that?

Similarly in Rowson's Guardian 2006 "Now the Real Work Begins", Cameron is shown looking cute and soulful in effeminate poofter Oscar Wilde/Stephen Fry/Bunthorne gear, chin in hand, with the other hand ruffling his own good head of hair. In the background are two conservative officials with a dead dog saying,
Look! Someone in the Policy Unit has strangled the puppy he's meant to be cuddling . *********! Go and steal another one and make sure it's gay.
Finally there is a wonderful cartoon of Cameron by Andy Davey, Bringing the Baggage on Behind. Old Etonian fop, Cameron rides his bicycle dressed as Lord Snooty of the Beano, his topper falling off, with common little William Hague as Scrapper Smith sitting behind him, using a catapult. It is Ffion's "Hague the Pop" sitting behind Cameron of Pop. After them follows a hearse with all those wonderful old reactionaries, Thatcher, Tebitt, Major and badger-faced Lamont climbing onto the roof. At the side of the road a very fat feline in a business suit grins and puffs on his cigar.

If only it were true. If only we could be sure that Cameron were a mere, in all senses green, figurehead and puppet spouting progressive nonsense and that a new Conservative government would stop all immigration and double the size of the prison population and back GM foods and nuclear power, as those tough patriots Hague and Howard would certainly have done. But it ain't so. The snivellers have truly taken over, led by old Etonian Oliver Leftwing. You would do better to support the bald-headed Dr John Reid. At least the Grauniad hates him, always a good sign.

The Political Cartoon Gallery has put on an excellent set of cartoons showing the conservative leadership from Maior to Minimus. It was opened with a speech by none other than that patriotic Scotsman the silver-haired Lord Lamont of Lerwick, who owns Britain's largest collection of cartoons of John Major. He is rumoured to be responsible for two of the best John Major jokes ever put into circulation:

Why was John Major so very close to Jeffrey Archer?

Well; they had a lot in common - like three O-levels.

John Major is living proof of how much social mobility there is in Britain. He went from circus acrobat to clown in one generation.

The eighteen stone, cigar-chomping Ken Clarke was also present and he chuckled mightily at the cartoons with every chin and stomach. In that case they have got to be funny. Go to the Political Cartoon Gallery and enjoy them. When Clarke laughs, everybody laughs.

Professor Christie Davies is the author of The Mirth of Nations that explains the humour of the cartoons and of The Strange Death of Moral Britain that explains their political context.

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