Marmalade on toast. Photo: Rex features
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Why marmalade endures: the tale of a bear and his favourite preserve

It's a food Felicity Cloake has enjoyed since childhood. Now Paddington is helping to revive flagging marmalade sales.

A couple of months ago I took two small people of my acquaintance, and one elderly bear in a moth-eaten duffel coat, to see Paddington at the cinema. I laughed, I cried (unlike my stolid, sweet-munching companions) – and, most of all, I rejoiced at the popularity of this 95-minute advertising campaign for the peculiarly British pleasures of marmalade.

Paddington couldn’t have arrived on our shores at a better time. Marmalade sales have been in slow decline for the past two decades, and while preserves with a more straightforward appeal, including honey and chocolate spread, have been enjoying the sweet life, poor old marmalade has been in danger of becoming an endangered species.

This upsets me for two reasons. First, having been weaned on Robertson’s Golden Shred on my granny’s knee, I am a big fan of marmalade in all of its many glorious forms, and would be sad to see it disappear from our shelves. Second, I feel the British love of marmalade, a distinctly bitter preserve, chock full of chewy peel, says something valuable about the national character.

A marmalade-themed statue in the new Paddington trail. Photo: Ian Gavan/Getty Images

Not for us the childish pleasures of the Nutella so beloved on the Continent, or, God forbid, the tooth-achingly sweet and insubstantial Marshmallow Fluff popular in the States. Our taste for more difficult breakfast spreads, such as salty Marmite and tangy marmalade, historically set us and our Antipodean cousins apart.

No longer: the editor of the Grocer magazine, which reported a 7 per cent decline in sales of the spread between 2010 and 2012, explained that marmalade is now “perceived as being old-fashioned . . . modern consumers have to an extent moved on”.

Yet how on earth can we have tired of something so deliciously various? Last year I had the great good fortune to find myself at a breakfast for the winners of the World’s Original Marmalade Awards, a competition set up by one Jane Hasell-McCosh of Cumbria to try to boost the fortunes of that noble preserve.

There was a blood-orange version with black pepper, a lemon variety with pear and vanilla, one with chocolate, one with vodka, and some superlative marmalade sausages, which confirmed my long-held opinion that a good bitter marmalade is a far worthier addition to a cooked breakfast than that Johnny-come-lately, tomato ketchup. (If you don’t believe me, try it, with a dollop of English mustard, on a bacon sandwich.)

Hasell-McCosh isn’t fighting this battle alone; recently I received a copy of Marmalade: a Bittersweet Cookbook (Saltyard Books) by one of her judges, Sarah Randell, which rejects the usual sticky steamed puddings in favour of more modern fare such as Persian pilaffs and Vietnamese salads. (It also includes cocktail recipes, though I rarely make it further than the bottle of Chase marmalade vodka that’s taken up residence in my freezer.)

Yet still I worried, as I sat in the dark cinema with the old bear, inevitably, on my lap, that this CGI Paddington was going to be powered by a very modern peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. So as the camera panned across a ramshackle Peruvian marmalade production facility manned by the redoubtable Great-Aunt Lucy, a bear clearly familiar with the steamy, citrus-scented joys of home preserving, I breathed a sigh of relief.

Early signs suggest that the film has indeed sprinkled a little Tinseltown magic on this dourest of preserves: Waitrose reported an 88 per cent rise in sales in the first month of release, and Robertson’s a more modest 24 per cent in the first week for its Golden Shred, featuring Paddington himself.

But really you can’t beat the home-made stuff, so I consider it my patriotic duty to inform you that Seville oranges are in season for another few weeks. Don’t let me down, people.

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 30 January 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Class Ceiling

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.