Green bananas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images
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Jack Monroe on Ed's two kitchens, leaving Labour – and why it's time to go bananas

Labour’s last straw was the “immigrants and benefits” scaremongering in one of its national leaflets. That’s not the party I joined. But it’s the party I left.

It’s banana season! It’s technically always banana season around here but according to my desktop seasonality calendar, which I check with alarming regularity these days, March is banana season proper – and that’s fine by me. At the Fairtrade Fortnight conference last year, we were told that there were hundreds of varieties of bananas being grown in the world but only one kind was sold in supermarkets. I wistfully remember Asda flirting with some fat, red-skinned bananas in my youth but they were short-lived. These days, living in Hammersmith, I can get socking great plantains cheaper than bananas. I recently had mole-drenched short ribs at a branch of the Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca, with a silky-sweet plantain purée to offset the sauce’s oral assault of heat and bitterness, and immediately bought some plantains afterwards as a reminder to make my own. They ended up as chips for the kids but the intention was there.

The most important thing about bananas is to buy Fairtrade ones. Some of the major supermarkets have Fairtrade bananas in their value ranges now, so there’s no excuse not to buy a banana from producers that pay a fair wage. Why would you want an unfair banana glowering at you from your fruit bowl? It just feels unfriendly. I feel as I type this that it may be one of those things I’m disproportionately passionate about. Congrats if you’ve read this far. I’ll move on.

 

It’s not me, it’s you

Speaking of bananas, there’s certainly some rubbish that passes for insightful commentary these days, generally of the 140-characters-at-a-time variety. “Reactionaries [are] relentlessly obsessing in the white noise of the internet,” as I put it in my Guardian column, explaining a few of my reasons for stepping down as “Miliband’s poster girl” (order-order.com’s accolade, not mine) and hugging the Green Party instead. In 2013, I met Ed at a party conference and asked him what he was going to do about food banks and zero-hours contracts and the correlation between the two. His reply started with: “If we get into government . . .” I shouted at him: full-on, temper-lost shouting. It’s a disgrace that families have to go hungry for a day in the sixth-richest economy in the world; advocating the idea that they have to hang around for 20 months and hope that Labour gets elected before anything changes was unbelievable. A bit of me died that afternoon. The relationship started to crack, like a chip in a favourite teacup you carry on using anyway, knowing that one day it will shatter in your hands and scald you.

At Glasto’s Left Field later in the year, I described my loyalty to the party as akin to my relationship with my four-year-old son: they can be a little shit sometimes but you love them so you stick by them. My son listens and modifies his behaviour when he’s in the wrong, which is fortuitous as, unlike the red-for-Green exchange, I can’t just cancel my direct debit and get a new, slightly better-behaved one. Labour’s last straw was the “immigrants and benefits” scaremongering in one of its national leaflets. That’s not the party I joined. But it’s the party I left.

 

Dancing queens

On to lighter matters. A friend called to say that she had tickets for Nile Rodgers and Chic at the Roundhouse in Camden and to ask me if I wanted to come disco dancing. Being 27, I wasn’t the intended audience, but instead of asking, “Who?” I had a listen online in the days before. The wonders of modern technology: no more hovering around the radio all afternoon, waiting for a song to come on so we could push down the play and record button simultaneously and impress it on to a cracked old cassette . . . It’s just a quick search away now, which is more efficient but somehow less thrilling.

We went along in our band of four, in luminous shirts and flat, sensible shoes, quite unlike the ones I went dancing in during my heyday as a shots dolly at a local nightclub (there are photos somewhere, but thankfully I don’t have any and nobody would believe it was me anyway). It was a hoot: a happy-go-lucky, shuffling, disco hoot. We managed to be out by 11pm, too – it really wasn’t like that in my day.

 

Ministers in flight

Kitchengate – Sarah Vine v Ed Miliband – is rumbling on, with a brilliantly clear photo of a Private Eye column doing the rounds on Twitter. In this way, a good barney can rumble on for weeks as it drifts back again and again into the consciousness of the chattering classes. I was heartened to see the rambunctious Jay Rayner getting involved, querying the brass neck of Mr and Mrs Gove reportedly having the taxpayer fund a £750 Loire table and £66,000 of home decor and calmly facing down Vine’s bleating about being “trolled” (loosely interpreted to mean “publicly asked awkward questions about where the taxpayers’ money went”).

Mind you, Michael Gove is a man who gets a £110,000 limo service to take him from Downing Street to Westminster, a distance so pithy that I could probably hammer-throw him from A to B myself. I imagine I wouldn’t be the only one volunteering for this new, green, low-cost mode of transport: MP-hurling, better for congestion, the purse strings and the environment. I’ll put it in the Greens’ suggestion box.

 

This charming man

Finally, I was deeply unimpressed to open the Guardian one morning to see Kelvin MacKenzie gurning out of it with a byline. I still feel a little grubby from the time he sat next to me at dinner before BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions? last year. His charming opening gambit was something along the lines of: “I’m sorry I don’t know who you are . . . but then I’m not very interested in girls who look like you.” This came with a disdainful hand gesture at my lumberjack-shirt-and-vest combination and the sleeves shoved up to show off two arms full of tattoos. I chalked that one up as a barometer of decency. Given what I know of Kelvin’s interests, I’m relieved not to be one of them.

Jack Monroe is the author of “A Year in 120 Recipes” (Michael Joseph)

This article first appeared in the 27 March 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Double 2015

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.