Borrowed Clothes

30 June 2022

Borrowed Clothes

As a political aid.

By Robert Kilconner

Kenya is a long way away so it is no surprise that their problems are rather different to ours. Still, it was a surprise to read in The Times that one of their problems was impersonation of police officers. No, I don’t mean impersonation with a view to committing other crimes but simply people pretending and behaving as if they were in the police, in rather a Walter Mitty sort of way. Take for example Monica Wamaitha Gitau, understood to be a candidate for election in August, who is under investigation following allegations that she joined a television interview as a panellist in full police uniform despite not being a police officer at all. Perhaps she thought it would improve her ratings. Stranger still is the story of someone reported to have been charged in 2013 with pretending to be an assistant commissioner for five years and hiring and firing personnel accordingly. He has been acquitted but that is subject to an appeal by the prosecution.

Whatever the outcome of these cases, the fact that allegations are being made at all and that the media is being urged to be vigilant must mean that there is a cachet to being a member of the police which goes beyond the respect in which officers are held here. What then might a UK political candidate pretend to be in order to pick up extra status marks?

Let us start at the beginning. “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor” as the careers adviser’s manual suggests. Should the aspiring politician seek to pass himself or herself off as one of these?  Tinker is rather a difficult one. That is not just because an Irish or Gypsy accent is needed but because tinkers are traditionally itinerant. “I live in a tent touring the constituency” would look odd on election literature. “Tailor” is more hopeful and indeed the late Bernard Weatherill when speaker of the House of Commons always kept a thimble in his pocket to remind himself of his days working in Savile Row. Still, now that everybody watches the Great British Sewing Bee, dexterity with the needle is not as rare as it once was.

Soldier and Sailor are military of course but one only has to look at the careers of Rory Stewart (a brief spell in the Black Watch) and Paddy Ashdown (SAS) to see that that is not necessarily a way to the top. Indeed, military and political skills are not the same and the failure of the Duke of Wellington as a political leader is often put down to his treating cabinet meetings as occasions when the Cabinet took their instructions from the top.

So let’s go down a line to ”Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief”. There is no doubt that wealth is helpful to the aspiring politician – at least it means that he can pay for the renovation of his own flat. Flaunting, or pretending to wealth, however, is rather different, and has a vulgarity about it which the electorate are unlikely to appreciate. What about the other way, however?  Pretending to poverty? It was said that the late Tony Benn (Lord Stansgate before he renounced his title) always dressed down for meetings in his constituency. Who knows whether the electors found this charming or patronising, but such conduct must surely risk their coming to an adverse conclusion.

And then there is “thief”. Generally politicians deny being thieves or liars but in the present state of things the electorate tend to disbelieve them. Why not turn it around? Not quite so far as to admit to stealing, perhaps, but at least a comment that “I am lying at the moment” would leave viewers arguing over whether it was true or false, and attracting attention is the first step towards success in modern politics.

tile photo: Alejo Reinoso on Unsplash

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