Opinion: Paxman, politics and pogonophobia

Bearded Nick Clegg

Oh what a fuss about a beard!

The media has gone mad over Jeremy Paxman’s beard, egged on a ‘Twitter storm’ last night. Even the BBC has got in on the act, declaring its presenter’s beard to be ‘notorious’.

What is it about beards that generate such interest, dislike, even fear? (This fear, the media tell us with glee, is properly called pogonophobia.)

Distrust of beards is nothing new. I grew mine the moment I escaped from sixth form. As an archaeologist, being hirsute was pretty much obligatory for men in those days. But when I led a dig for a county council, the head of personnel laughed out loud at the ‘odd habit’ of us diggers growing facial hair.

Some years later I mentioned this to Michael (now Lord) Bichard, who had just finished twenty bearded years in local government. He confessed that he’d similarly been regarded as odd, even revolutionary, simply for growing hair on his chin amid the clean shaven world of local government.

For some people, the very sight of a beard defines personality. Take conservative Bill Cash for example. In a rage against wind turbines planned near his home, he wrote scathingly about “the bearded… wind developer.” But then, so very few Tory MPs have beards. Bill himself is shaved to egg-like perfection. Of the 256 male Tory MPs, just four have beards, though Keith Simpson exhibits a very fine moustache.

The Lib Dems don’t fare much better. Having shaken off our image of being a “beard and sandals” brigade in the last few years, its 50 male MPs can only come up with a miserable three beards. Even Paxman has observed that our “beard quotient seems to be down.”

Labour on the other hand almost excels in hairiness. Maybe it’s the cold of the north that has encouraged them to grow 20 beards (and a lone moustache) between their 169 male MPs. It’s good to know that Labour is getting something right, if only 12% of the time.

The Paxman beard has created a typical silly season flurry of press interest. Ben Fogle told the Daily Mail that TV executives threatened to sack him if he grew a beard. Evening Standard owner Evgeny Lebedev advises Paxman that he “must carry his beard through to the end.” Quite right too. Beards are for life, not just for summer holidays as Paxman’s is rumoured to be.

We as a party must do more to promote beards. We should outlaw discrimination against people that wear them. We must also expand our energy efficiency policies. Imagine how much electricity is wasted every day in pursuit of a collective clean chin for the nation. A tax break for beard wearers anyone? If we had such, a nation of five o’clock shadows would be abolished in just a few days. Nick Clegg would be able stand up at next month’s conference and announce with pride that we have abolished chin stubble at a stroke.

So how about it Nick? Fancy growing a beard in time for Glasgow?

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice

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15 Comments

  • Why is there a picture of Chuck Norris attached to this article?

  • Clear Thinker 14th Aug '13 - 4:11pm

    I was seriously threatened with being sacked if I grew a beard. 20 years ago. I guess not much has changed.

  • Tony Dawson 14th Aug '13 - 4:21pm

    Noel Edmonds is looking younger every day! 😉

  • I await the comments of the Lib Dems Friends of Facial Hair (twitter @beardylibdems) with interest.

  • Funny how fashions and public thinking can change. I remember a time when soldiers in the Guards were expected to grow a moustache and were paid “moustache money” ( I think a shilling a week) for so doing. Full beards in the army were not permitted except for the Pioneer Corps and in the Royal Navy moustaches were not allowed but the full set (beard and moustache) was OK. In my unit (the Intelligence Corps) a bristling moustache was thought to intimidate prisoners into making a confession which would not be given to a clean shaven interrogator: we even got complaints from some human rights groups over this. Strange how we regard facial hair isn’t it ?

  • David White 15th Aug '13 - 1:52pm

    When I was young sprog, 60+ years ago, we called men with beards ‘Beaver’. No, I don’t know why – can anybody enlighten me?

    I was very impressed by the virile masculinity of Paxo. He was clean-shaven when presenting University Challenge but was hirsute when introducing Newsnight, later on the same evening!

    I was amused by Clear Thinker’s comment about being threatened with the sack. Most of my wives and partners objected, strongly, to my beards. After a few hairy (in more ways than one) months, I shaved, to please them. I was wasting my time: they all sacked me, eventually! I don’t blame ’em.

    My current beard has lasted for almost twenty years – apart from a few weeks when, living in Abbots Langley, I became clean-shaven. All my friends laughed at my naked chin, the cruel so-and-sos. The beard returned, but it didn’t grow quite as quickly as that owned by Paxo!

  • Haha! Nick Clegg suits a beard. He could even get some big glasses and a fake nose to go with it! Hahaha!

  • Andy Boddington 18th Aug '13 - 9:26am

    Well, I’d never heard of Chuck Norris or Will Riker before the comments on this blog. And it is good to learn that I am wearing a beaver! Meanwhile, the British Newspaper Archive has come up with this advertisement speculating what might have been if Henry VIII had shaved:

    http://blog.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/if-henry-viii-had-used-a-gillette-razor/

  • Things like beards and ginger hair are a good way to find out who actually has a liberal attitude and who is just running down a checklist of right-on causes.

  • Simon Banks 29th Aug '13 - 5:38pm

    Lest anyone think beards are permanently associated with sandals and left-wing politics, looking at old photos of American Civil War soldiers, I came to the conclusion that the Confederates lost the war because they kept stepping on their beards.

    The only time I’ve regretted having a beard was when I was working in Finland, it was winter and I got a runny nose.

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