Say what you like, the English people know quality and dross when they see them. There’s a photograph from 1983 on the front of The Guardian this morning, showing former Labour Party leader Michael Foot walking his dog Dizzy on Hampstead Heath. He’s waving his walking stick in the air and is wearing what we used to call a donkey jacket – a short overcoat. The overall effect is of a slightly weird old guy dressed unfashionably gesturing in what might be a friendly but might be a threatening way.
It was the coat that really upset the English people. He appeared wearing it – or one like it – at a Remembrance Day service back in the 1980s, and there was a gasp of horror throughout England. It was dark green! It was too short! It showed disrespect to the dead of two World Wars! Not one in a hundred English people – maybe not one in a thousand – could have told you what Foot’s economic policies were but every one of them could have told you how he wore stupid clothes and looked like Worzel Gummidge and so could not possibly be a good prime minister. Net result: an extremely intelligent, well-read, eloquent man, with policies that included unilateral nuclear disarmament (which made perfect military and economic sense for Britain then and still does today) was rejected as an odd-ball and dumped on the scrap-head of history. And who did the English people choose instead? Right first time – the perfectly-coiffured Margaret Thatcher. Where would we be without the wisdom of crowds?