Ken Clarke arrives in Downing Street earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Ken Clarke resigns as Cameron's reshuffle begins

One Nation veteran steps down from the government before he is pushed.

Update 21:36pm

The resuffle is continuing, with Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, Attorney General Dominic Grieve, Leader of the House of Commons Andrew Lansley all unofficially confirmed to have left the cabinet. Meanwhile, rumours are swirling round Westminster of a shock departure, with William Hague thought to be the most likely candidate. 

Of note is that the two biggest Conservative supporters of the European Convention on Human Rights, Grieve and Ken Clarke, have both left, paving the way for a possible Conservative manifesto pledge to withdraw from the treaty. 

Update 19:38pm

Universities minister David Willetts, who attended cabinet, has announced his resignation, along with International Development minister Alan Duncan and "Big Society" minister Nick Hurd.

David Cameron's final cabinet reshuffle of this parliament has begun. The PM is currently meeting those Conservative ministers leaving the government in his Commons office in order to spare them the walk of shame up Downing Street. By contrast, those who are being elevated to the cabinet, will be paraded in full view of the TV cameras tomorrow. 

The first to depart are Ken Clarke, who was serving as minister without portfolio (having been demoted from Justice Secretary in 2012), and David Jones, the Welsh Secretary. Of note is that Clarke's resignation means this will be the first Tory-led government since 1972 not to feature him on the frontbench. And, as I wrote last week, his departure, to be followed by that of Chief Whip George Young, means the cabinet will be left without a One Nation flag-bearer

In response to his sacking, Jones told ITV News: "It's not been a bad run - I've had four years as a minister, two years as Secretary of State." He added that Cameron was "very kind" and made it clear that the reshuffle was about "freshening up the team". Jones is best known for warning, at the time of the equal marriage bill, that same sex partners could not provide "a warm and safe environment for the upbringing of children". He and Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, who is also expected to be sacked, were the only Conservative cabinet ministers to vote against the legislation. 

Reshuffle

Out

Ken Clarke (Minister without Portfolio)

Dominic Grieve (Attorney General) 

David Jones (Secretary of State for Wales)

Andrew Lansley (Leader of the House of Commons) 

Owen Paterson (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 

David Willetts (Universities Minister)

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Byron burgers and bacon sandwiches: can any politician get away with eating on camera?

Memo to aspirant world leaders: eating in public is a political minefield.

Miliband’s sandwich. Cameron’s hot dog. Osborne’s burger. The other Miliband’s banana. As well as excellent names for up-and-coming indie bands, these are just a few examples of now infamous food faux pas committed by British politicians.

During his entire mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan refused to eat anything in public. When journalist Simon Hattenstone met him in his local curry house for the Guardian, the now-mayor didn’t eat a single bite despite “dish after dish” arriving at the table. Who can blame him? Though Ed Miliband had been pictured blunderingly eating a bacon sandwich an entire year earlier, the national furore around the incident had not yet died down. “He can make me look Clooneyesque or make me look like Ed eating a bacon sandwich,” Khan said of the photographer at the time.

Miliband’s bacon sandwich is now so infamous that I need offer no explanation for the event other than those words. There is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to the photograph of Ed, lips curled and eyes rolling, as he tucks into that fateful sarnie. Yet politicians frequently bite off more than they can chew – why did Ed’s mishap inspire multiple headlines and an entire front page of The Sun?

Via Getty

“The momentum got behind the bacon sandwich story because he was awkward, it showed him in a light which was true - he was an awkward candidate in that election,” says Paul Baines, a professor of political marketing at Cranfield University. “He didn’t come across right.”

The photograph of Miliband fit neatly within a pre-existing image of the politician – that he was bumbling, incompetent, and unable to take control. Similarly, when David Cameron was pictured eating a hot dog with a knife and fork months later, the story reinforced popular notions of him as a posh, out-of-touch, champagne-swilling old Etonian. Though Oxford-educated, two-kitchen Miliband is nearly as privileged as Cameron, and Brexit-inducing Dave equally as incompetent as Ed, the pictures would not gain the same popularity in reverse. There are many, many less-than-flattering pictures of Cameron eating, but they didn’t fit into a workable narrative.

Via Getty

No one, for example, focused on the price of Ed’s sandwich. Purchased at New Covenant Garden Market, it was undoubtedly more expensive than Greggs’ £1.75 bacon roll – but no one cared. When George Osborne was pictured eating an £8 Byron burger whilst cutting £11.5 million from the British budget, however, the picture spoke to many. The then-chancellor was forced to explain that “McDonalds doesn't deliver”, although, as it turned out, Byron didn’t either.

“The idea was to try and display him in a good light – here's a guy eating a burger just like everyone else. The only problem was it was a posh burger and of course he didn't look like everyone else because he was spending ten quid on a burger,” explains Baines.

But Dave, Ed, and George are just the latest in a long, long line of politicians who have been mocked for their eating habits. Across the ocean, Donald Trump has been lambasted for liking his steak well done, while in 1976, Gerald Ford was mocked after biting into the inedible corn husk of a tamale. Why then, do politicians not copy Khan, and avoid being pictured around food altogether?

Via Getty

“Food connects everybody, food is essentially a connection to culture and the 'every person',” explains Baines. “[Nigel] Farage's appearance in the pub has definitely had a positive impact on how he's perceived by a big chunk of the working class electorate which is an important, sizeable group.” Though Cameron, too, has been pictured with pints, his undeniably weird grasp on the glass make the pictures seem inauthentic, compared to Farage whose pints are clearly at home in his hands. In America, Joe Biden managed to capture the same authenticity with an ice-cream cone.

“I think when it comes across badly is when it comes across as inauthentic,” says Baines. “If I were advising, I certainly wouldn't advise Theresa May to be seen in the pub having a pint, that would not shine with her particular character or style. But could Tim Farron come across better in that way? Possibly but it does have to be authentic.”

Food, then, can instantly make a politician seem in or out of touch. This is especially true when food connects to national identity. Tony Blair, for example, publicly claimed his favourite dish was fish and chips despite earlier saying it was fettuccine with olive oil, sundried tomatoes and capers. In the 1980s, Lord Mandelson allegedly mistook mushy peas for guacamole, insulting us all. In the States, you’d be hard pressed to find a politician who hasn’t been pictured with a hot dog, and there are entire articles dedicated to US politicians who eat pizza with a knife and fork. Again, the food fits a narrative – politicians out of touch with the common person.  

Then again, sometimes, just sometimes, no narrative is needed. We’d advise any candidate who seriously wants a shot in the 2017 General Election to not, under any circumstances, be pictured casually feeding a Solero to an unidentified young woman. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496