How Kamala Harris is already showing up British politicians – Jayne Dowle

The pioneering Kamala Harris is the new Vice President-elect of the United States.The pioneering Kamala Harris is the new Vice President-elect of the United States.
The pioneering Kamala Harris is the new Vice President-elect of the United States.
EVEN if you hold only passing interest in American politics, you must admit that the appointment of Kamala Harris, the new Vice President-elect to Joe Biden, means something.

The first woman and the first BAME person to take this role, she is already an inspiration, and not just in her own country.

My teenage daughter, always a good bellwether of the youth vote, says that ‘‘Kamala’’ is well on her way to becoming a credible globally-recognised ‘‘one-name’’ celebrity in the manner of Madonna, Beyonce and Bono.

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When her success was announced, television footage showed celebrations in her mother’s ancestral home village in India. Image is not quite all, but it is a huge factor in modern politics.

President-elect Joe Biden and his family with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.President-elect Joe Biden and his family with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
President-elect Joe Biden and his family with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

I’d argue that Ms Harris’s televised debate with a stony-faced Mike Pence, the number two to President Donald Trump, marked a clear turning point in the Democrat campaign for the White House.

She was, by turns, calm and reasonable, questioning and cynical, as you might expect the former attorney general of California to be. And at 56, more than two decades younger than Joe Biden, she seemed positively youthful and vital.

Many of our female politicians would do well to channel her warmth and self-assurance. When she received the news that the Democrats had won, she was out for a run. Perhaps it was staged, perhaps it wasn’t, but she is clearly her own woman.

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Our politicians might also take a good look at her on-the-money dress sense. It’s a very British thing to assume that clothes and image don’t matter in the public eye.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

Some of our female MPs sit on the Westminster benches looking like they’re out for a day at the beach. The men, it pains me to say, usually fare better, but mostly because a suit and tie is quite difficult to get wrong.

As Margaret Thatcher, with her carefully chosen handbags and always-immaculate coiffed hairdo, knew only too well, image maketh man (and woman).

However, the notion of ‘‘power-dressing’’ no longer means shoulder pads and vertiginous heels. The symbolism Ms Harris chose to accept the role of Vice President in waiting was not lost on those with an eye for fashion politics.

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When she took to the podium, she did it in a white two-piece Caroline Herrera trouser suit, worn with a modern twist on the pussy-bow blouse, also favoured by Mrs T.

The ensemble looked elegant yet simple, but was clearly not thrown on as an easy-to-wear choice. White – along with purple for dignity and valour and green for hope and rebirth – was a suffragette colour, symbolising purity.

After an election campaign fraught with bitterness, the white suit marks out one with moral purpose, representing a blank page on which to start a new chapter. The choice was no accident; women Democrats in Congress chose to wear them en masse at the 2020 State of the Union address to demonstrate their unity and commitment to defending the rights of women and disenfranchised groups. Ms Harris’s choice of outfit was certainly more than a statement.

It’s certainly not facile to talk about politicians and clothes. What political figures wear – or not – says a lot. Astute political observers did not fail to notice that Andy Burnham, the Labour metro mayor of Greater Manchester, was fronting a press conference wearing a zipped-up fleece jacket when he received the Ministerial text telling him that his region was being forced into Tier Three coronavirus restrictions.

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His seemingly casual attire was no accident either; the lack of suit and tie was a not-too-subtle two fingers up at the establishment. It wasn’t quite the donkey jacket adopted by ultra-left-wing Labour leader Michael Foot in the 1980s, but definitely along those lines.

Those of us with long memories may recall former TV war correspondent Martin Bell, independent MP for Tatton in Cheshire between 1997 and 2001, and known as ‘‘the main in the white suit’’. He vowed to bring a new honesty to politics.

Clearly, Ms Harris intends to do the same. However, she is asking the American people – and also the world – to hold two opposing ideas in their heads at the same time. This is never easy.

Yes, she the first woman of colour to hold such a high political office and in the post-Trump world this is significant. And yes, she is proud to reinforce that with her visual image.

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However, now that the hysteria of the Democrat victory has subsided, it would be good if soon we can forget what she represents and concentrate on what she can actually achieve.

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