Category Archives: Politics

Hot under the collar about the elective dictatorship?

“I’m feeling a bit strangled”, said Lord Hailsham. “Have you got any size 18s?”

“I’ll have a look, sir”, I said.

He wasn’t asking about shirts. In the late 1960s, it was still fairly commonplace for men to wear separate collars, attached to their shirts with collar studs. It was his collars that were proving to be the problem; but therein lay the great advantage of collarless shirts: rather than throw out a perfectly good shirt, one need only buy a new collar and the old tight, worn out or stained collar could be discarded. My father would routinely do without wearing a collar around the house, only attaching one when he went off to work or to meet family or friends.

I’d seen quite a few celebs strolling around my sales floor at the Army & Navy Stores on London’s Victoria Street during my Christmas holiday job as a student.

I recognised Quintin Hogg, or 2nd Viscount Hailsham as he’d become in 1950, straight away. (Actually he wasn’t a lord when I met him, as he’d renounced his peerage in the mid-‘sixties under the Peerage Act, in order to stand as an MP. He later returned to the House of Lords).

The quite eccentric Hailsham is remembered for a variety of reasons. But perhaps most of all we remember him for a phrase that redounds even to this day in discussions about government: “elective dictatorship“.

In a lecture in 1976, Hailsham suggested that governing parties held far too much power, such that they were able to – and often did – act in a dictatorial fashion, whether or not they had a large majority. Whilst there was an appearance of democracy through debate and whilst parliament appeared to be a forum in which opposing views could be aired and considered, in reality the governing party was at liberty to impose its will without any regard for the views of other parties.

So I’ve been wondering what he would make of the current situation in parliament. Not only have the Tories not got an overall majority; they are dependent on the attachment of a right-wing ‘collar’, in the shape of the DUP, in order to survive. Even so … whilst they are able to hold sway only by paying a £1bn bribe for this attachment, in theory they can dictate whatever policies they choose and enact legislation which takes no account of the views of electors who hold contrary opinions.

Yes, without a collar, a man’s shirt is incomplete. And without a majority, a government is unable to function smoothly. So the Tories clearly see paying way over the odds for a new collar as a price worth paying.

But even following the Conservative and Unionist Party‘s signing of the deal with the DUP, Prime Minister Theresa May must be feeling held in something of a stranglehold by her new Irish partners. The studs holding their partnership together may well become dislodged.

I fetched a tape measure from the drawer under the counter and slipped it around Hailsham’s neck. (Our political opinions might have been diametrically opposed, but I resisted the temptation to martyr myself in the cause of worker’s rights).

“Yes, I think a size 18 would be much more comfortable”, I said. Hailsham harrumphed and paid over the £1 2s 6d for the new collar.

In reality, it may not be the collar that brings about the downfall of Theresa May. There are many dissenting voices on all kinds of issues on her own back benches.

Whilst she may think she’s got the whole situation buttoned up for now, it probably won’t be long before things start to fall apart at the seams …




Picture credit: Quintin Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St Marylebone Allan Warren.jpg by Allan warren (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons


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Politics by telegram

I didn’t last long as a copywriter. About six months, in fact.

The old man who was head of the team of wordsmiths at the Downton Pulford Compton ad. agency thought my headlines and body copy were a bit long-winded. “Think telegrams”, he advised. That’s all he said. A bit short and sweet. But I kind of got what he meant: keep it simple.

Donald Trump
seems to appreciate the power of keeping it simple. His modern day telegrams – Make America Great Again, Fake News – and the others, communicate simple, telegrammatic, posterised messages that slip easily into the memory bank without raising the slightest alarm or prompting too many questions among his followers.

Who wouldn’t vote against the simple injunction to “Make America Great Again”? Or, in the case of Brexit, to “Take Back Control”? The K.I.S.S. principle is tried and tested.

Back then telegrams were still quite popular, though the UK’s main telegram service ended in 2003 (interestingly, it’s still possible to send one, via telegramsonline).

Telegrammatic communications have been a bit out of fashion for quite a while, perhaps with the exception of that most powerful of advertising media, posters. Posters have a unique ability not to divert attention away from the basic message with snazzy video and dialogue that makes you think “What the hell was that all about?” They distil, focus and cut through. Just like the telegram did. When each word cost money, people were short and sweet to save cash. But the message was concise – and therefore clear. Stop.

Never was a telegram shorter and sweeter, perhaps, than in the case of Oscar Wilde‘s legendary exchange with his publisher, enquiring about the success of his most recent book. He sent “?”, to which the publisher replied “!”

Downtons handled a large proportion of the UK advertising for cinemas – not the ads. that appear on the screen, but the ads. in the local paper that give details of what’s on at the pictures. In addition they publicised film launches – and other stuff, like sales of confectionery and ice cream.

For quite a long time I was given menial tasks – just writing body copy for leaflets. It was the era when cinemas were converting to multi-screen – so quite a significant period in the history of the UK industry. Lots of factual leaflets were needed for door-to-door distribution. No-one in the department wanted to be involved with rubbish like that. The other creatives all guarded their bits of the business like mother elephants.

I thought I’d made a breakthrough when I was given an assignment to write an ad. encouraging people to spend more money at ‘front-of-house’ (FOH, as it’s known); ie in the foyer. I believe it’s still the case that cinemas make a large proportion of their profit from FOH sales. It’s almost as though the movies themselves are the bait to lure unsuspecting customers into the foyer to shop for way-overpriced burgers, sweets, ice lollies and chocolate.

Anyway, in this instance, my task was to write an ad. for Wall’s Ice Cream. Which I did.

(Not sure why, but in the back of my mind as I write this, I hear Trump bellowing “We’re gonna build the wall!”).

Anyway, it turned out that my headline, which to this day I think was quite snappy, went down like a lead balloon. I think the old man though it was a bit too clever.


Pun on the word “lolly”? Didn’t go for it. It soon became clear that my career in Creative was going nowhere; I switched to the Media department.

It was all very political …



Image credit: By dumbfoundling a flickr user [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

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