Page last updated at 16:43 GMT, Thursday, 11 June 2009 17:43 UK

Moustache in return to cabinet

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

Bob Ainsworth
Bob Ainsworth would not look out of place on the parade ground

Whether stiffly-waxed and bristling or louche and droopy, there was a time when no self-respecting man-about-town was seen without one.

But the moustache has fallen into tragic disuse in recent years - and nowhere more so than in politics.

Within seconds of being called to high office, once proud wearers of top lip upholstery have swallowed their pride and reached for the razor. So take a bow Labour MP Bob Ainsworth.

For the new defence secretary is, as The Sun points out on Wednesday, the first Labour cabinet minister in about 40 years to sport a proper moustache.

Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson cut quite a dash in the 1980s

Yes, there have been bearded ministers before - David Blunkett was a self-confessed "hairy lefty" and Frank Dobson could have doubled for Father Christmas.

And Jim Knight, the new employment minister, wears a goatee - but he only attends cabinet. He is not a full cabinet minister.

And none have had what you could call an honest-to-goodness soup strainer.

Not that Mr Ainsworth has quite the same moustache he had when he first entered the Commons in the early 1990s.

Geoff Hoon
Lip, lip hooray: Geoff Hoon in hairier days

A solid, unflashy model served him well on the production line at the Jaguar car plant and in his rise through the tough ranks of trade union activism.

But the moustache he wears now is a more close-cropped, bristling beast, more suited to a regimental sergeant major barking orders on the parade ground than a left wing rabble rouser - entirely in keeping with his new job as defence secretary.

And he is showing no sign of shaving the thing off - unlike so many of his current and former colleagues.

Stephen Byers
Double whammy: Stephen Byers had an unbeatable combination

Among those to sacrifice their facial hair to the demands of the image mongers are Peter, now Lord, Mandelson who throughout the 1980s sported a moustache.

But when Mandelson entered the Commons, it had to go.

One of Mr Ainsworth's predecessors as defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, also shaved off his moustache by the time he was pictured at the cabinet table.

Arch Blairite Stephen Byers once sported the world-beating combination of moustache and glasses - but when he was called to the frontbench one of them had to go. No prizes of guessing which.

Gerald Nabarro
Gerald Nabarro set the standard in the 1960s

So what is it about a moustache that is so incompatible with high office? Do wearers think it makes them look untrustworthy? Do they fear being labelled a spiv?

Or - far worse in the pallid world of modern politics - do they fear being seen as a "character"?

A warning from history comes in the form of Gerald Nabarro - the backbench Conservative MP who cut a swathe through the 1950s and 1960s with his trademark handlebar moustache.

It may have been the finest example of facial hair ever to grace the Commons' green benches, but it came to define him. The moustache eclipsed the man - when he passed away, in 1973, it is what he became chiefly remembered for.

But at least he is remembered at all - something today's generation of smooth-lipped turncoats might want to bear in mind.

Here are some of your comments:

Shouldn't the caption under Peter Mandelson's picture read

"Peter Mandelson cut quite a tash in the 1980s"

I'd love you to change it!
Gareth Williams, Basingstoke

I think Lord (Gus) Macdonald of Tradeston sported a moustache as Minister for Transport for Prescott's Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions (1999-2001). The post came with attendance at Cabinet. Sad, I know.
Rhys, London

I personally love a well groomed moustache, it is a sign of confidence, dignity and intelligence that a minister should have, perhaps if Gordorn Brown were to grow a moustache, his critics might ease off of him a bit.
Joe Ferrelly, Staines

Facial hair was popular during the times when this country was at its best, more people should wear one. A well groomed 'tache' is something to be in awe of.
James Thompson, Molesey, Surrey


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