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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Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad