Beards: a point of contention

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I never realized that my post about weirdie-beardie cabinet ministers would provoke such contention.

To remind the sluggish amongst you (or those of you who’ve got here by googling “Lily Allen”, “baboon and a badger” or – incredibly – “cute nazi”; the mind truly boggles), I asked:

Prior to 1997, when was the last time a beard was worn in the British cabinet, and to whom did it belong?

It appears that we have two condenders.

In the red corner: Sidney Webb, Lord Passfield, Dominions Secretary 1929-30 and Colonial Secretary 1930-31

In the red corner: Sidney Webb, Lord Passfield, Dominions Secretary 1929-30 and Colonial Secretary 1930-31

I had thought that the answer was Sidney Webb, who – as Lord Passfield – served in MacDonald’s cabinets in the ill-fated inter-war Labour Governments. He – and his beard – left the Cabinet in 1931, leaving the cabinet bereft of beards until the entry of Robin Cook, Frank Dobson and David Blunkett in 1997.

But was this the last incidence of a beard in cabinet? Paul Williams in the comments alludes tantalizingly to a potential Benn beard as recently as 1969. I managed to find this morsel of evidence through some astute googling:

From The Independent, Friday 12th January 1996

From The Rev Tim Russ

Sir: I think your diarist (8 January) was wrong about Sidney Webb having been the last Cabinet minister to wear a beard. Tony Benn, in his diary, writes as follows:

There were jokes in Cabinet about my new beard and Michael Stewart reminded me of what Attlee had said when Sydney Silverman, MP for Nelson and Colne, grew a beard. He had said, “I move previous face” and indeed Harold began by saying, “Motions to move previous face are out of order.” (p215 of the one-volume edition)

That was 19 August 1969.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Russ

St Dennis,

Cornwall

10 January

In the other red corner: Tony Benn, Minister for Technology 1966-70. On the other hand, he does not appear to have a beard.

In the other red corner: Tony Benn, Minister for Technology 1966-70. On the other hand, he does not appear to have a beard.

What are we to make of this startling revelation? I can find no photograph of Tony Benn’s beard: on the other hand, he’d have to be a serious fantasist to invent facial hair for the purpose of his political diary. Even we moderate types at the Paintbrush Collective wouldn’t think that of Tony.

So, we have a tie between Paul and Sadie (although Sadie admits to unsportingly asking a colleague).

A call is going out to all comrade bloggers: the next time you’re at some worthy leftie event and Tony Benn takes questions, could you please ask him:

  1. If he has ever had a beard;
  2. If so, was he at the time of having the beard a member of the cabinet?

I’d be so grateful.

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3 Responses to “Beards: a point of contention”

  1. Sean Says:

    Dobbo. health. 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/674731.stm

  2. voteredgogreen Says:

    Good try Sean, but you failed to spot that 2000 is not prior to 1997. 2000 happened after 1997.

  3. Beards: for a bonus point « Frank Owen’s Paintbrush Says:

    […] it appears that there’s more to the beard issue than meets the eye. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)GB Principle of the Day #4It’s half […]

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