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Peter Rhodes on Labour's antisemitism nightmare, a political punch-up and the curious appeal of beards

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

AN RAF committee, worried about the retention of personnel, is considering the subject of beards.

Renee Short - heckled

Facial hair, apart from a moustache, is banned in both the army and the air force, but not in the Royal Navy. Meanwhile, beards have become fashionable in civvy street and some officers believe that if the rules were relaxed, servicemen might stay in the RAF for longer. The alternative is: no hair today, gone tomorrow.

THE downside of the beard revolution is that so many young men now look the same. The streets are full of lookalike kids with the sort of gingery beards once reserved for Victorian uncles. Biggles? Is that you . . ?

FINGER trouble. You have no idea how close that item came to "gingery bears."

THE danger of wearing a beard is that, like a pair of thick glasses, it implies intelligence where little may exist. The late A A Gill wrote of the danger of "beards as a substitute for thought."

AND before all you army-barmy pedants weigh in, I am aware that a very small number of British Army personnel are allowed to wear beards, including pioneer sergeants who appear on parade carrying not a rifle but an axe. This was traditionally used (animal lovers look away now) to finish off horses wounded in battle.

THE very first political meeting I attended as a young trainee reporter included a speech by the left-wing Labour MP Renee Short. She was suddenly interrupted by a man in the audience shouting and denouncing her as "a member of an unassimilated minority." Another man, red with rage, stormed down the hall and punched this man in the face. I hadn't a clue what was going on. My colleague explained later than Renee Short was Jewish, her heckler was a leader of the far-right National Front and the bloke who thumped him was a lifelong socialist who had fought in the Spanish Civil War. Back then, there was absolutely no doubt that Labour, as part of its fight against fascism and for common decency, stood four-square with the Jewish people.

HOW times change. In the wake of its bizarre internal row over defining antisemitism, the Labour Party now feels it necessary to state: "The next Labour government poses no threat of any kind whatsoever to Jewish people." No threat? Ye gods, however did it come to this?

INCIDENTALLY, Renee Short who died in 2003, worked hard to keep her own weight down and wanted others to do the same. She was also not above inventing words. Short once declared: "Obesity has become a national problem. People have heart disease, flat feet and backache. Most people don't realise that one meal and two snacks a day is quite sufficient. Less studge and mudge is needed." Studge? Mudge? Somehow, you know what she meant.

AND still no answer from TV Licensing as to why their reminder now has a more menacing tone than in earlier years. I'll keep you posted.

Peter Rhodes

By Peter Rhodes

Award-winning columnist and blogger. Keeping an eye on the tribulations and trivia of a fast-changing world

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