When Julia Gillard referred to Tony Abbott’s blue ties I thought she was being puerile. Now every day I see Tony Abbott in a blue tie I know he’s puerile. I don’t agree with other feminists who get cross about journalists focussing on what politicians wear and their hairstyles etc. I agree they monitor women pollies’ appearances more closely and maybe more scornfully. But let’s face it, women pollies’ clothes and hairstyles are more interesting. In any event I think what people wear tells you something about them – clothes maketh the man (and woman). And in Tony’s case I think his blue ties tell us this.
First, he’s still waging war on Julia Gillard. Because it was she who drew attention to the blue tie, so it must have riled her, so let’s keep doing it, to keep riling her. Which is pathetic. He won an election. He’s Prime Minister. He can put his arguments with Julia Gillard behind him now. But he can’t. Which is pretty interesting. And I think the reason he can’t is because his fight with Julia was personal. It wasn’t about policies. Or the direction of the country. It was personal. I wonder if he dreams about her.
A second reason he sticks to the blue tie is that it get’s up the nose of Julia’s feminist supporters. Well that’s probably true. And even people who aren’t Julia’s feminist supporters! That’s a sign it really is puerile. But guess what? When you’re Prime Minister you’re meant to represent all of us. Most Prime Ministers give at least lip service to the ideal and put it into practice some of the time. The worst of them look at everything purely in terms of partisan political advantage. But even they haven’t gone out of their way to irritate a section of the population for no good reason. The best Prime Ministers have regard to good public policy when making decisions and only tweak them for political purposes. Having a Prime Minister who uses the colour of his tie to give a section of the community the creeps is pretty exceptional.
The third, and maybe most troubling rationale is the one given by the PM himself. That he likes a uniform. This suggests at the least a distinct lack of imagination. At worst it confirms David Marr’s insight, that Tony Abbott hasn’t grown in the job at all. Zilch. He’s just the same old Tony that he’s always been. Loves a uniform. CFA. Lycra. Army. You don’t have to think about uniforms. Once you put them on you do what people in those uniforms do. By rote. Which is where all his problems arise. You can’t be a Prime Minister by rote. You have to get into all sorts of new and different policy areas, you have to absorb new facts and figures, you have to think deeply about things, be open to different points of view, exercise judgement. When you have a Prime Minister who doesn’t like choosing a tie we, and the nation, are in trouble!
Other aspects of this fetish are also troubling. As more attention has been given to the ties – mostly by cartoonists who, whilst slow on the uptake are now lampooning them with a vengeance – a male friend complained to me about the shade of blue. It isn’t even an authoritative shade, he opined. That’s right. Not old school tie dark blue, not Melbourne Demons blue, not even Union Jack blue. It’s a light, icy blue – the sort of blue that people associate with baby boys. This accords with Tony Abbott’s seeming death wish about being Prime Minister at all as evidenced by his behaviour in office. Perhaps he prefers it back in Bubs rather than being Head Prefect.
Another thing Tony’s love of blue ties has lead to is the wearing blue tie in sympathy brigade. In the first leadership challenge (a second is coming soon one hopes) the praetorian guard of mostly senior Ministers all wore blue ties. It makes me wonder how much time are they spending on this little frolic. They’re meant to be busy people, preoccupied one hopes with their portfolios, making important decisions, collectively steering the ship of state. Instead they’re fretting over whether to wear the right shade of blue tie. Who buys them the things? Wives or staff? How do they ensure they get the right shade? Do they ring each other in the morning to check who else is wearing the tie. It really is too puerile.
One final point. The thing is they’re ties. So they’re (mostly) only worn by men. Good thing there are only two women in Tony’s Cabinet.
I leave you with this cartoon from Leunig. One of many featuring the PM’s blue tie, and I think the best. Tony’s all tangled up in blue! (Apologies to Bob Dylan).