Monday, 25 August 2014

Leather hats, lycra and chalk stripe suits.

I have recently given up my car and bought a bicycle. The primary purpose is so I can cycle to and from our local railway station each day and catch the train to work. The station is two miles from home and takes me ten minutes (via the coffee shop where I read the Times and have my morning four-shot Americano).  A great way to start the day.

The announcement of our bicycle purchase resulted in a Facebook comment from Martyn Punyer expressing concern that we would turn into MAMILs. For those who don't know (as I didn't), MAMIL is an acronym for "Middle Aged Men In Lycra'. I assured Mr Punyer that we had no such plans.

There is, however, a trait for people to brand themselves, and through this branding comes a sense of ownership, superiority and exclusivity. And as people brand themselves, so they become ever more ridiculous and detached from the mainstream. And here is a lesson; it's as true for politicians as it is for any other group.

When we take our boat out on the inland waterways we tend to wear the same clothes as we always do. If it's warm and sunny -  shorts and t-shirts. If it's cold - jeans and jumpers. If it's wet - rainproof coats. However we often see others who must have an exclusive "waterways wardrobe" for as soon as they get close to a tiller out comes a stupid brown leather Ausie Bushman-style hat and a ridiculous low-slung belt for carrying a windlass. Neither is necessary or even practical - but they do give a sense of being part of an exclusive club.

We found the same this weekend, having taken our bicycles on our weekend away. As we huffed and puffed our way from Abingdon to Oxford we were constantly being overtaken by lycra bedecked people wearing all manner of gadgets and gizmos; the best of which were a middle aged couple with helmet mounted rear-view mirrors, flashing lights built into their heels and Bluetooth walkie-talkies.

Don't get me wrong, if you are a professional yachtsman or cyclist - working for your living or competing for your club or country, then you probably need (and deserve) all the kit you can get. But if you are a 72 year old retired librarian tootling off to the Oxford Green Party's Polenta and Ylang Ylang sale at Jericho Community Hub, then the only purpose of wearing skin tight lycra is to send a message to others that "I am part of the same club as you" as you ding your bell and look disapprovingly at the two slightly overweight blokes dressed in shorts and t-shirts.

And the same lessons apply to politics, too.

By nature I am a Libertarian. If someone wishes to wear a cravat and boating blazer or a three piece chalk stripe suit to go canvassing on a Saturday, then they have ever right to do so. However, just as you have a right to set your own standard of dress, don't be too surprised when others see you as a bit odd and decide to put their faith in the candidate who at least looks and sounds like they do.

As many of you will know my partner is an ordained Minister of Religion and from what I have seen the Church is a cursed as politics in how we are each perceived by the majority. Each has declining numbers, faltering finances, a difficulty to be seen as relevant in modern Britain. Yet each organisation is run by people who enjoy parading around in strange clothes and using syntax which is at best obscure and at worst alien to the majority of those whose support we need to prosper.

As Steve and I travel around the canals and inland waterways we smile inwardly at the wonky-hat brigade with their aloof manner, safe in the knowledge that our boat is worth as much as theirs. And as we puff and blow our way along Sustrans Cycle Route 5 and absorb the patronising smiles of the MAMILs we do so secure in the knowledge that our bicycles are worth just as much as theirs.  And those of us in politics who are tempted to dismiss those who don't dress to our standard or watch BBC Question Time or read The Spectator, we should also remember that their vote is worth as much as ours.

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