Boris Johnson has been wearing hats like they are going out of fashion, which they are.
According to Nick Robinson’s new book, Live From Downing Street, when David Cameron went off for his hug-a-husky photo-opportunity to the Norwegian glaciers in 2006, he refused to wear a hat, even though it was -25C.
The reason for this masochistic obstinacy? Well, it seems he was mindful of the PR mistake his predecessor William Hague made when he was photographed wearing one as he went down a log slide at a theme park in 1997. The hat in question was a baseball cap with the word “Hague” on it. The columnist Simon Heffer memorably opined that it made Hague look like “a child molester on a day-release scheme”.
Robinson does not record whether Cameron actually said the words “hats are for losers”, but perhaps that doesn’t matter. He clearly thought them. And anyway, there is a long and noble tradition of putting words into politicians’ mouths. Enoch Powell never said “rivers of blood”, nor Callaghan “crisis what crisis?” And Margaret Thatcher probably never said: “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.”
No one is sure about that last one. Her enemies like to think she did say it, as it conforms to their stereotype of her as a callous monster given to ridiculing those worse off than herself. And perhaps it also appeals a little to her friends, signalling as it does the social importance of having aspirations. Not that there is such a thing as society.
Either way, Cameron’s “hats are for losers” is the modern equivalent of that Thatcher quote. And he should think twice before he denies he said it. For one thing, it might make him some proper enemies, not the half-baked ones he has at the moment – because a leader is only as impressive as the enemies who define him. Wellington needed his Napoleon, Monty his Rommel, Maggie her Arthur Scargill, General Galtieri and Michael Heseltine.
It is perhaps too late for Cameron to adopt old Hezza as an official enemy, but what about that other blond, the younger one who took over Tarzan’s seat at Henley? In public they make out they couldn’t be chummier, with Boris even joking that they dance Gangnam Style. But the Nick Robinson non-quote quote might just do the trick for Cameron and draw his “frenemy” into a public feud.
After all, Boris has been wearing hats like they’re going out of fashion, which they are. Not only does he wear those woolly ones when he goes jogging, but he has even been known to don a pink Stetson (for a Gay Pride march in London).
Hopefully, Cameron’s non-quote quote will be picked up on Twitter, where there is no room for context, and then go viral. After that it can only be a matter of time before it ends up in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. In which case we may as well beef it up a bit. Do the job properly. Speaking at a Conservative rally in Birmingham yesterday, David Cameron joked: “Hats are for losers, like Boris. Talk about the prat in the hat!”
And if we are attributing a non-quote to Cameron, we may as well give Boris a right of reply. “If anyone is a loser it is that greased-piglet Dave,” the Mayor of London said yesterday. “Hats are cool, hats are magnificent, hats are the cat’s – I was going to say pyjamas but that would confuse things. Let us say that hats are the favoured bedtime headwear of our feline friends.”
Anyway, I am with Boris and his made-up quote on the subject of hats. The older and, yes, balder, I get, the more I have come round to them. I found myself staring thoughtfully at a trilby in a shop window the other day. And they are useful for more than just keeping your head warm. They are powerful tools of expression, to be doffed, tipped and, when excited, thrown in the air. Even politicians can look good in hats. Think of Churchill in his homburg, or Macmillan in his Russian fur cap.
I’ll close with a fine piece of hat trivia: what was the type of hat most commonly worn by cowboys? That’s what I thought, but it turns out it’s the wrong answer. It was the bowler hat, which cowboys called the derby.