Not so long ago politicians were content to demonstrate their credentials as a likeable everyman by kissing babies and shaking hands.
Yesterday senior figures from both main parties battled to express their ordinariness by appropriating one of the more ubiquitous symbols of modern life: the shop-bought pasty.
In what was immediately dubbed an outbreak of "pseudo-plebbing", the Prime Minister led a fightback against allegations by Greggs the bakers' chief executive, Ken McMeikan, that the Government's 20 per cent VAT levy on his products signalled it was out of touch with normal folk.
The Eton-educated Prime Minister styled himself as one of the everyday pasty-quaffing classes by admitting he had most recently eaten a distinctly upscale West Cornwall Pasty Company snack at Leeds station.
"I am a pasty-eater myself. I go to Cornwall on holiday, I love a hot pasty," he told reporters. Mr Cameron was attempting to make up for Chancellor George Osborne's earlier admission that he couldn't recall the last time he had visited Greggs.
Meanwhile in Redditch, Labour leader Ed Miliband and his shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, had popped into a local Greggs to exploit the Government's discomfort. The pair spent £4.70 on eight sausage rolls, posing for the cameras to highlight the confusion over when a hot pasty was indeed hot – and thus eligible for VAT under the Chancellor's aim to unify tax arrangements on cooked food.
"Not just fuel duty going up, child benefit taken away, tax credits being cut, now even putting 20 per cent on the cost of pasties, sausage rolls. And the Chancellor's excuse? Well, he says you can buy them cold and you can avoid the tax," complained Mr Miliband.
Yet if the Prime Minister was hoping he had taken some of the heat out of the debate he was mistaken. As reporters and camera crews descended on Leeds station to check the truth of his pasty claim, it emerged that the last West Cornwall Pasty Company outlet had closed nearly five years ago – which means it had either served Mr Cameron an exceptionally memorable pie or he had misremembered. A later "clarification" from a Downing Street spokesman conceded the location and manufacturer of the mysterious last pasty supper was unknown.
There were also questions over Mr Balls's genuine enthusiasm for the high-street pasty, less than a month before he is due to run the London Marathon.
"You need to make sure you keep your carbohydrates up – that's what we're doing today," he said.
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