Wednesday 13 December 2017
When was the last time a bearded man led a major political party in Britain?

When was the last time a bearded man led a major political party in Britain?

5 months ago

When was the last time a bearded man led a major political party in Britain?

5 months ago

Jeremy Corbyn may not be the bookies’ favourite to succeed Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour party but he has already made British political history – by virtue of his beard.

That’s right, tub-thumping leftie Jez is the first person with a beard to ever stand in a contest for the Labour leadership.

Snappa graphic about bearded politics

Here are some of those other political figures of yesteryear who sported fine facial hair.

Keir Hardie, Labour leader 1906-1908

Keir Hardie

Were Corbyn to win, then he would be only the second bearded person to lead his party. The first was Keir Hardie, who led Labour from 1906-08 but who was not elected to the post.

There have been other Labour leaders with facial hair but none has boasted a full beard of the kind worn by Corbyn or Hardie.

George Lansbury, Labour leader 1932-1935

George Lansbury and his wife

George Lansbury, Labour leader between 1932-5, possessed a bushy moustache and sideburns but never went for a complete beard.

Ramsay MacDonald, Labour leader 1922-1931

Ramsay MacDonald
(Len Putnam/AP)

The first Labour prime minister to have facial hair (actually he was the first Labour prime minister full stop), Ramsay MacDonald was in power in 1924, then again from 1929 to 1935.

Clement Attlee, Labour leader 1935-1955

Clement Attlee

The second of only two Labour prime ministers to have sported moustaches, Attlee ran Britain’s government from 1945 to 1951.

In total, only one of the 16 men (and they have all been men) to formally lead Labour has had a full beard.

Lord Salisbury, Tory leader 1885-1902

Marquess of Salisbury

None of the last 16 leaders of the Conservative party has had a beard. The most recent was Lord Salisbury, who was Tory leader from 1885 to 1902 and served as prime minister on three occasions.

Lord Salisbury is also the most recent PM to have a beard, meaning there has not been a bearded resident of 10 Downing Street for 113 years.

Benjamin Disraeli, Tory leader 1868-1880

Benjamin Disraeli

Including Salisbury, only three prime ministers in the past 200 years have had full beards. Benjamin Disraeli was one, he was PM in 1868 and then again from 1874 to 1880.

Lord Palmerston, Liberal leader 1855-1865

Lord Palmerston

Lord Palmerston represents the third PM to have had a beard. That’s a total three out of the 40 people to serve as British prime minister since the start of the 19th century.

Harold Macmillan, Tory leader 1957-1963

Harold Macmillan

Harold Macmillan is the current record hold of “last prime minister to have any facial hair”. He’s also, by extension, the last Tory PM and Tory leader to have a moustache.

Overall moustaches have been far more popular. Seven prime ministers of the past 100 years have had moustaches.

Sir William Vernon Harcourt, Liberal leader 1896-1898

William Vernon Harcourt
(Wikimedia Commons)

None of the last 13 leaders of the Liberal party (including the Lib Dems) have had beards. The most recent example is Sir William Vernon Harcourt, who was leader of the opposition from 1896-8.

In short, of the three main UK political parties of modern times, it has been 107 years since Labour had a leader with a beard, 113 years for the Conservatives, and 117 years for the Liberals.

William Gladstone, Liberal leader 1867-1894

William Gladstone

Sideburns – or whiskers – were also popular, particularly during the late 1800s. The man who typified this best was long-serving Liberal prime minister William Gladstone, who held the office four times.

Personally, we can’t see a properly whiskered man leading a major political party any time soon. That kind of facial hair will just have to be left in the 19th century and Shoreditch.

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