Beards make a coalition comeback among MPs

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Stephen Crabb MP and Miss England, Alize Mounter, who is actually Welsh, at Westminster

I know what you're thinking. Why has an ambitious Tory MP like Stephen Crabb grown a beard?

In Margaret Thatcher's day, the prime minister's dislike of facial hair led to accusations of "pogonophobia" - defined as the persistent, abnormal and unwarranted fear of beards.

It is indeed hard to recall a ministerial face from the Thatcher years that was not clean-shaven and designer stubble was said to present a glass ceiling when it came to promotion.

David Cameron, though, calls himself a liberal Conservative, and the facially hirsute are still able to prosper. Perhaps it's buried in the coalition agreement. If you believe in stereotypes, a ban on beards would offend the Liberal Democrats as much as a law against sandals although I cannot think of a bearded Lib Dem in government.*

As my photograph shows, Mr Crabb returned from the summer recess sporting a fresh set of whiskers. The beard has apparently won mixed reviews among his nearest and dearest.

Ah, I almost forgot. The lady in the photograph is Alize Mounter, better known as Miss England. Except she is Welsh - the Roehampton University journalism student hails from Pontypridd.

She visited Westminster as a guest of government whips, including Mr Crabb, and was briefed on the work of parliament ahead of prime minister's question time last week.

[*Update: Apologies - Anthony Pickles e-mails to remind me of the very bearded Liberal Democrat deputy leader of the Commons, David Heath]