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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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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