The ADgenda: Jamie Oliver's Cook it, Snap it!

Annoying ad campaigns.

Jamie Oliver divides opinion. An unassuming little fella he first took to our screens with a bish bash bosh approach to cooking, teaching us that it's ok to make sub-par vaguely edible food as long as you do it with a cheeky grin and a wink. There were a few naysayers but we chucklingly dismissed them as out of step. After all this was Jamie, our lad about town. He clearly couldn't believe his luck, having come from humble beginnings in the kitchen of his dad's pub he was now fronting a primetime cookery show where the more slapdash and lairy he was, the more the public lapped it up -  chuck in some pasta, add a bit of salt, you got yourself a gourmet meal. He quickly maximised his exposure, tramping through fields squeezing mozzarella balls as the poster boy for Sainsburys and made time to set up pretty worthwhile projects like Fifteen, giving employment to teenagers who were struggling. But clearly, he never wanted this fame - his face grinning out from every bookshop window, his merchandise packing the supermarket shelves - such fame was too much responsibility for one man to shoulder. All this had been a little joke that got out of hand, a dare conceived down the pub - fake an Essex accent, throw some food around a kitchen and see how long it takes the British public to cotton on.  The adoration of the British public has lost its appeal for Jamie, it's the only explanation for the frankly antagonistic move he's now pulled. He's going out with a bang, with the ultimate annoyance that will make the public shun him forever. He's done his research and discovered that the most heinous culinary crime is taking incessant photos of food. A pastime that has seen a surge in popularity recently thanks to the young things' obsession with Instagram - a tool that lets you add a rosy vintage-feel filter to photos, magically turning your sausage and mash into gourmet fodder at the tap of a button. So popular is this penchant for documenting every morsel that passes our lips that there are whole websites devoted to it, and now Jamie's cashing in. With his Cook It, Snap It! ad campaign - a call-out to the nation to buy his latest cookery book, have a go at piling all the ingredients together, and then photograph the results which will be compiled into yet another stocking filler - no doubt he's hoping that in one fell swoop he can line his pockets for the future and piss off the British public enough that they will leave him be. Life of a solitary mountain goat herd, here he comes.

Jamie Oliver. Photograph: Getty Images
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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.