Kitchen sink drama. Photo: BBC
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Shut up about Ed Miliband's two kitchens: if you kick champagne socialists out, champagne Tories will conquer

What matters is not privilege, but what you choose to do with it.

It’s funny because, up until this morning, I had thought Ed Miliband did all his cooking on a camping stove with out-of-date sausages he found in the discount bin in Aldi. It turns out the Leader of the Opposition has his own kitchen. He even has two. Or, as journalist and friend of the Milibands Jenni Russell put it, Ed and wife Justine have a kitchen and a “functional kitchenette” by their living room for “tea and quick snacks.” A politician and a barrister have money? It’s this sort of investigative revelation for which I rely on the press. Next week’s exclusive: Britain has a class system.

Whether it was a soft PR move or a personal calculation, it is telling that Miliband used his "smaller" kitchen for the original photograph. Over 24 hours, he’s found himself kicked by both sides of the dilemma waiting for anyone further left than Thatcher: Be honest about your wealth and you’re a privileged hypocrite. Hide it and you’re a liar – or, as the Daily Mail’s Sarah Vine described it, the owner of “communist-style egalitarian lino”.

This is the same trap left-wing commentators routinely find themselves in. A columnist objecting to private education will be shouted down for having gone to one themselves. A pundit criticising low pay for the average worker will be derided for how much they earn. If the entry requirement for a politician or journalist discussing progressive policies was being working class, inequality would be discussed around three times a year. Which, as a tactic, seems very convenient for anyone wanting things to stay exactly how they are. Kick out the champagne socialists and the political discourse will be (even more) defined by champagne conservatives.

Sure, it is tempting to dissect a politician’s bank balance. If we’re deciding the next election based on who has the nicest kitchen (and I’ve heard worse ideas) we could point out that David Cameron’s cost £25,000 – and is seemingly full of luxurious utensils and furniture, including a £1,600 lamp, an £800 cooker and a £140 toaster. He’d probably look at Miliband’s kitchenette and burst into tears, stamping his feet in between sobs of “What am I? Middle bloody class?” But then again, I could not care less. It is not simply that Cameron is an Eton-educated, Bullingdon Club product of the ruling class that is objectionable. It's that he's an Eton-educated, Bullingdon Club product of the ruling class who has chosen to use his position to make low-wage earners, benefit claimants, and the disabled poorer. It is not the privilege someone has that matters but what they choose to do with it.

What’s Miliband’s crime? That he advocates a mansion tax and a living wage and then goes home to a nicer-than-average house. It is smoke and mirrors. Power and money, of course, matters: both the advantage our politicians come from and what they have now. The British class system is a running joke; where cash, networks, and schooling beat talent, morals, and vision. The House of Commons and the contest for No 10 is clearly a damning example. But castigating individual politicians will do nothing to disrupt the structural inequality that helped them, rather than their cleaner, get there.

Nor will attacking Miliband for earning enough to buy a house with a spare kitchen do anything to fix the inequality that means millions of others are on zero hours, peanut benefits and fearing debt or eviction. Worse, the cycle of denial and outrage – whether it’s hiding a luxury kitchen or criticising it – actively enshrines both. We may as well make a pact: "Let's pretend there's no such thing as economic, social, and gender inequality and then do absolutely nothing about it."

Pretending our leaders – or for that matter, barristers or journalists – are largely anything but advantaged is the sort of insulting game that treats the public like children appeased by shiny colours. "Kitchens" are a distraction. Inequality, poverty, and skewed life chances matter. It would be a start to elect someone who cares they exist.

Frances Ryan is a journalist and political researcher. She writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman, and others on disability, feminism, and most areas of equality you throw at her. She has a doctorate in inequality in education. Her website is here.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.