The soft option: style and the Tories

Grazia knows what’s next. Thigh-high boots on the catwalks. Leather for AW09. And a Conservative government at the next general election. The Tories have been working their way around the style press for a while now – GQ editor Dylan Jones has authored a book of interviews with David Cameron and has taken several opportunities to celebrate Conservative politicians in his magazine, and Samantha Cameron’s role at luxury-goods firm Smythson has probably contributed to an uptick in pictures of her and her husband appearing in Vogue.

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In 1997, Labour made much of their supporters from pop music and the arts. For Conservative politicians, style mags offer the same sort of sympathetic access to mass audience beyond the political hardcore: the NME is very unlikely to turn blue, but fashion (with a business structure based on individual entrepreneurs selling very expensive things to very rich people) is probably wide open to Cameron’s “compassionate conservatism”. Tara Hamilton-Miller’s bizarre “How cool are the Conservatives?” feature in The Telegraph is just another push at the same angle, from a depressing world where banalities like “riding a bike” and “wearing Converse” count as achingly now.

In Jane Moore’s Grazia interview (15 August, above), David Cameron is presented in the same way as the next label or designer or model. His ascendancy is a fait accompli: the reader just has to catch up. Policies and politics don’t come into the feature: this is about learning to love David. He’s a “leader, campaigner and grieving father” according to both the ed’s letter and the strap. He talks about his admiration for his wife, his grief at the death of their son, his hopes for another child. Moore tells us that Cameron is hard-working (“David Cameron is addressing a packed hall of voters […] But, hang on, this is August”) and affectionate (when talking about Sam “his face visibly softens”).

The only questions that go beyond the warm domain of the personal are the reader ones, dealt with in a boxout where the splurge of figures and initiatives can go unchallenged. Fiscal policy isn’t Grazia’s domain, and there’s no reason for a politician to go looking for scrutiny, but it’s grim stuff to have a politician presented to you on these terms. Cameron is the object you will be adoring when the next collections arrive – he’s as inevitable as a new style of hosiery, and like the legging, you’ll want to know everything about him (how long? what colour?) but never question his fundamental reasoning. Flick to page 30 of the same issue and you’ll find out that the language of compassionate conservatism is a part of stylespeak now. David Cameron might be considerably less important than Cheryl Cole’s wardrobe, but he’s something you’ll want to consider buying all the same.
Grazia 4

Related: “Who is wearing what, and why!”

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009

6 thoughts on “The soft option: style and the Tories

  1. Though I think Dylan Jones’ constant appreciation of the Tories is quite funny, I’m not sure I entirely buy the premise of this well written piece. If I was running Cameron’s campaign I’d probably do exactly the same.

    Policies and politics don’t come into the feature: this is about learning to love David. He’s a “leader, campaigner and grieving father” according to both the ed’s letter and the strap. He talks about his admiration for his wife, his grief at the death of their son, his hopes for another child.

    But that’s why people are reading Grazia and not the Spectator and / or New Statesman. They don’t want hardcore policies – they judge their politicians by the commitments they make, by their personal struggles and whatnot. I don’t downplay the importance of that – people also have to emotionally connect with their political leaders and see them as humans they can empathise with (a problem that Gordon Brown grossly suffers from).

    Of course many Grazia readers may also be reading political magazines or national newspapers so they can get the policies anyway. That’s not Grazia’s remit – it is to show their human face.

    Hey, Obama’s family were a huge hit with the glossy mags in the States and that did a much better job of normalising their first African-American president than any speech did in my opinion.
    In fact, to sell healthcare, I’d tell him in a flash to go for interviews in O Magazine and other glossies (except he already has women on side, it’s the seniors who are the trouble. Perhaps he should try and US version of Saga).

  2. I completely agree about Grazia’s remit. I like to think of this post more as a pettish kick against the inevitability of the next government than as anything with any sort of solid premise.

  3. Wait, which politician’s wearing Converse? I’m not ditching my white hi-tops unless it’s Portillo.

    Also, I often wondered how GQ manage to make such a big magazine: I read it at the weekend and it turns out the answer’s repeating everything loads, like their self-congratulatory anecdote about how they chased Hague out of office with their 14 pints story, which appears THREE TIMES in seperate places in their last issue. Idiots.

  4. I think their secret is in being a bit less shit than the competition. Last issue we had knocking around was a perfect storm of middle-aged pomposity and yearning hipsterishness – culminating in a boring, boring shoot by a porno photog whose work was boring when it was in The Face 10 YEARS AGO.

    I think Cameron is rocking the hi-tops. I nearly had a very smug line in the post about how I’m wearing Superga at the moment. Then I discovered that their main celeb endorsement is Liam fucking Gallagher. I think the moral is that maybe trainer brands aren’t a solid foundation for my identity :(

  5. I liked the recent issue where Piers Morgan congratulated himself on carrying out his most ‘revelatory ever’ interview with Gok Wan, except that it turned out to be two transcribed pages of him bullying Wan into admitting how many people he’d slept with. The answer was 21, which tells me exactly nothing about Gok Wan, but quite a lot about what a prick Piers Morgan is.

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