Why do Tories all look the same? This year, having never been to a party conference before, I went to the Labour one in Brighton, then the Tory one in Manchester. At each, the political weather was what you’d expect. What struck me most, however, was the difference in clothing. In Brighton, I saw women with pink hair and men wearing T-shirts that read ‘Stop the war’ or ‘Never kissed a Tory’; scruffy young Corbynistas rubbing up against nervous-looking Blairites.
At the Conservative conference, there was only one tribe — and its uniform was a bland blue suit. I expected to find a mix of styles as at the Labour convention. I pictured country bumpkins in red corduroy mingling with city slickers; shy Tories in twinsets and not-so-shy Tories in loud garments. Surely there would be as many different types as there are variants of Labourite? I imagined I would see a few of the tribes.
I was wrong. Almost everyone wore the same outfit. Everywhere I looked, there were identikit men in two-piece tailoring, strutting around against the bright blue backdrop of the conference panelling. Young and old looked the same. Many women also wore blue business suits.
The Conservatives like to talk about diversity a lot. They don’t want to be thought of as the party of white male privilege, and they aren’t. There’s no shortage of ethnic minorities milling about, cheering on Theresa May and roaring approvingly at Boris. That’s something to be celebrated.
No, the problem is not that the Tories are too white — it’s that they are too blue. The conference looks like a sea of corporate blandness, and it’s suffocating.
The whole party seems to have become professionalised to the point that it feels uncomfortable even to deviate from this boringly ubiquitous appearance. It feels a bit fascistic. In the conference hall, I wore a brightly coloured coat: you could spot me from across the room. If I had done the same at Labour, nobody would have noticed. When everyone dresses the same, it makes the entire atmosphere feel a lot more dull.
Where has this generic Tory look come from? In the main exhibition hall, I found a tailor selling suits; he told me he had done a brisk trade all day. He had already sold 50 blue ‘corporate suits’ and expected to sell many more — possibly to those unfortunate delegates who had not realised what they were expected to wear. ‘They are associated with power,’ he said. ‘The blue suit is the power suit.’ One Tory grandee told me that his own tailor had suggested his grey hair would look better next to blue fabric.
So that explained it: everyone at the Tory conference is power-dressing. They think the party is their ticket to success, so they all dress up to look like members of the same managerial class. Lobbyists, journalists, activists, party members, politicians — they all looked exactly the same. Even the G4S security guards blended in. When the halls filled up for the speeches, it looked like a convention for Patrick Bateman — or George Osborne — lookalikes.
I had expected a little eccentricity —green velvet coats or orange socks, perhaps. But no. I did spy one or two tweed jackets, but the men wearing them looked sheepish and anxious. I also saw a man in a kilt who looked positively deranged. The only truly eccentric costume turned out to be a wedding dress. It was worn by the swivel-eyed controversy jockey Katie Hopkins.
It’s no wonder Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are so popular. Amid the blue wash, they seem so colourful. Boris wore a blue suit, too, but nothing stops him standing out.
The Mogg, for his part, sported a darker, double-breasted number in a more traditional cut. He looked sharper than all the blues around him. I’d expected his acolytes to wear something similar, but they preferred to play it safe in their sensible standard-issue suits. (Mogg told me he found the thought of his fans copying his style ‘terrifying’.) It’s also not surprising May’s kitten heels have been so fetishised by Tories: anything that isn’t a blue jacket and trousers becomes fascinating.
I bumped into one of the Prime Minister’s advisers and asked him whether he had spotted this sartorial fact. Reluctantly, he agreed that everyone looked alike. ‘The stats will show, though, that there are a wide range of different people here at conference,’ he told me. And with that, in a swish of his blue suit, he was gone.