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It’s funny because, up until this morning, I had thought Ed Miliband did all his cooking on a camping stove with out-of-date sausages he found in the discount bin in Aldi.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.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.