A house along Kensington Palace Gardens, which has been named as Britain's most expensive street. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why Labour's London mayoral hopefuls might regret their opposition to a mansion tax

By resisting a progressive measure backed by most Londoners, they have given Sadiq Khan the chance to position himself as the radical candidate. 

Of London's likely London mayoral candidates, there are now four who oppose the party's policy of a mansion tax. David Lammy (the only officially declared candidate bar transport expert Christian Wolmar) and Tessa Jowell have rejected the measure, which would involve a charge of 1 per cent on property values above £2m, as "a tax on London". Margaret Hodge has declared: "The problem identified is the right one, I just think the solution is too crude to work properly." Even Diane Abbott, a stalwart of the socialist Campaign Group, has warned: "The turbo-charged nature of the London property market means that anyone who bought a family house in a previously unfashionable part of London decades ago could easily now be living in a house worth over £1m. And, although the mansion tax will not affect properties at that level, I suspect that those voters will be jumpy." (Andrew Adonis, who was considering standing, but is now expected to support Jowell, has also criticised the policy). 

Only Sadiq Khan, the shadow London minister and shadow justice secretary, has remained loyal to the party line. Khan, a leading figure on the left of the party and a close ally of Ed Miliband (he ran his leadership campaign), regards the tax as vital to reducing inequality in the capital. 

What explains the hostility of his rivals to a progressive and popular policy? (72 per cent of the public and 59 per cent of Londoners support it.) The primary concern expressed is that it will penalise those who are asset rich but cash poor: people on modest incomes who could struggle to afford the £5,000 bill that a £2.5m property would incur. But this issue has already been addressed by Ed Balls, who announced in June that there would be "protections in place" for this group. This would take the form of a relief scheme, or allowing low-earners to defer payment until the property is sold. The shadow chancellor also responded to the concern expressed by Abbott by pledging that the threshold for the tax would be raised annually in line with average increases in house prices, rather than general inflation. This, he said, would "ensure that more modest properties are not brought into the scope of the tax". 

But rather than policy, it is politics that may explain the mayoral hopefuls' stance. All are keen to avoid being seen as "party hacks", and to be seen to defend Londoners (90 per cent of properties worth more than £2m lie in the capital), even if against their own party, following the example set by Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. By opposing a mansion tax they also helpfully align themselves with the position of the Evening Standard, which has long criticised the measure as "a tax on London". 

Yet, for similarly political reasons, they could yet regret their stance. London is one of the most unequal cities in the developed world; it is home to more billionaires than any other, but one in three Londoners live in poverty, two-thirds of them in work. A recent poll found that 80 per cent of residents believe the income gap is too high and that 87 per cent believe rising inequality is unfair. Contrary to claims that "ordinary" voters would be hit, it's estimated that only 0.4 per cent of Londoners would be affected - 80 per cent of them within the wealthy boroughs of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea. Last year, only two properties in Jowell's borough of Southwark, one property in Lammy's borough of Haringey, and no properties in Hodge's borough of Barking and Dagenham were sold for more than £2m. 

By nonetheless opposing the policy, they have provided Khan with a potent dividing line for the Labour selection contest. Bill de Blasio won election as New York mayor last year (and defeated his centrist rivals) by campaigning on the theme of of "a tale of two cities" and vowing to radically reduce inequality. In resisting the redistributive mansion tax, Labour's London mayoral hopefuls have given Khan the chance to similarly claim this territory for himself. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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?

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“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.

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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?

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“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.

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