Pretending to eat pasties

A hot pie is just a hot pie; it's not a cultural totem of the working classes.

A hot pie is not a basic human right. Wrap that up in your soggy grease-lined paper bag and take a big bite.

It's taken the possible slight increase in price of mechanically reclaimed sludgemeat in pastry to wake us from our slumber. Now we care. Now it's about our RIGHT to stuff our hungry fat faces with minced-up pigs for the lowest price possible, we've decided it's a very big deal indeed.

This isn't about class warfare, although it's an understandable mistake to make, since most of the things this Government does are about redistributing money from people they don't like (the public sector, people on benefits, people in general) to people they do like (anyone who can afford a £250,000 supper round at Dave's gaff). But this isn't one of them.

Look, I like a pie as much as the next person -- probably more than the next person, judging by my ever-expanding waistline. As a self-confessed problem eater, I am here to tell you that pies are nice.

But for God's sake. A hot pie is just a hot pie; it's not a cultural totem of the working classes. It's a treat, it's not a basic foodstuff. It's not something that people should be seeing as a staple of their diets; it's a fatty, greasy, meaty, sloppy load of bad food. Delicious, sure, but come off it: there are alternative foodstuffs available, which are better for you, and which cost less.

Why are we even talking about pasties? Well, there are a lot of very wealthy people who stand to lose a bit of money if their production-line pastry becomes less enticing; entirely concidentally, they don't appear to have paid for a rather more nutritious dinner at No 10 Downing Street, though of course that wouldn't have affected policy towards their industry in any way whatsoever.

Additionally, some of these companies have a substantial advertising presence in newspapers, which are coincidentally taking up the sausage roll baton to fight for the right to have a hot pastry at lunchtime.

And then there's Ed Miliband. Watch the footage of him in Greggs, if you can, shuffling up in the queue as Ed Balls, finger in his jacket hook-loop, orders sausage rolls.

Not so keen to batter David Cameron on things like privatisation, which his party broadly supports, he's on safer ground when it comes to pasties and pies. It's just an easier thing to do. Come along to Greggs and stand by the meat slices -- it's a sure-fire winner.

This, then, is our political discourse at a time when immeasurable change is being done to the country: posh men arguing about which one of them is more "down with the voters" by pretending to eat pasties.

I could make a tedious analogy between the rather tasteless, homogenised produce in your local bakery branch, and the kind of unpalatable pale slabs of meat who shout at each other in the House of Commons, but what's the point?

This is the way we want it; this is what we have created, and what we respond to. This is the crap they're serving up -- and it's not going to get any better.


Pasties: not a human right. Credit: Getty Images
Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.