Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to our shared spaces

Whatever the truth, this important story reveals two things: the politics of refrigeration and the etiquette that can turn offices and shared spaces into Freon battlegrounds

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The Independent Online

Call it fridge gate, or at least fridge door – the one that the millionaire in charge of our finances allegedly keeps padlocked to stop staff from stealing his milk.

George Osborne’s protectionist dairy policy emerged at a Westminster lunch this week, when Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told reporters that he and the Chancellor “do share things, but not the milk which, to my amusement, he still keeps under lock and key…”

As Coalition diplomacy took a chilly new turn, outraged Tory insiders claimed yesterday that the disputed fridge was in fact shared, including by Alexander, and only locked at night. Others said that the Treasury had inherited the secure communal cooler from the previous government. Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s former spin doctor, confirmed as much on his blog.

“Things got serious when… the stashes of Highland Spring bottled water kept for Gordon’s meetings began to go missing, not to mention any wine left over from his receptions,” McBride wrote. The Chancellor’s office clerk, he added, “had a budget for such items – as well as for Gordon’s collection of Tesco’s Finest microwave meals – and didn’t take kindly to seeing them misappropriated, hence the eventual appearance of a padlock.”

Whatever the truth, which, like Brown’s last Aberdeen Angus cottage pie, may never see the light of day, this important story reveals two things: the politics of refrigeration and the etiquette – or lack thereof – that can turn offices and shared spaces into Freon battlegrounds.

For an insight into fridge ownership and use among our leaders, search “fridge” in the 2009 MPs’ expenses files. Michael Gove claimed £702 for one in 2005, while Ukip turncoat Douglas Carswell claimed half as much (as well as £655 for a “Maximus” love seat). Top austerity points go to Dan Byles, also Conservative, who claimed just £50 for a second-hand model.

The contents of the Treasury fridge were not clear yesterday, but another insider suggests that most Westminster cold cabinets tend to contain mini bottles of milk and champagne in varying proportion. What’s inside yours? The Independent features-desk fridge contains a decade of festering dregs and dairy effluent, as well as two pints of milk (one expired), a bottle of Tribute ale, three cans of Foster’s shandy and an unopened jar of Maille “espellette pepper sauce with a touch of Armagnac”.

Not much to trigger a cold war here, then, but elsewhere fridge users deploy sometimes sophisticated defence strategies. One colleague has memories of the dreaded university fridge: “I remember going to steal, as per every day, some unknown’s butter, only to find that they had carved the words FUCK OFF in the top of it.”

Post-it notes are a more convenient pass-agg medium, and have become more common as property woes compel people to share space beyond their uni days. I Lick My Cheese… And Other Notes From the Frontline of Flatsharing became an unlikely big seller in 2007, featuring examples from the author’s decade of communal living, including the titular cheese warning.

Last August, a hostage situation developed at a New Zealand radio station when a turkey sandwich disappeared from a fridge. Its kidnapper and rightful owner traded blows on pieces of paper stuck to the fridge door before the HR department intervened to track the culprit via the company’s printer queue. The last message read simply: “I’m sorry please don’t fire me.”

In 2011, mystery enveloped the Radio 4 Today fridge when a pair of socks began appearing among the milk bottles. Earlier, a copy of a biography of Benjamin Disraeli had also turned up. At about the same time, David Gregory, the BBC West Midlands science correspondent, conducted an experiment in his office fridge. He placed an unmarked control bottle of milk next to a second bottle featuring a different adaptation each day to determine how best to put off thieves. A drawn-on pair of accusatory eyes worked well, as did food colouring. But the only measure that halted any theft? A label that read “breast milk”. Something for George Osborne to consider should he wish to remove Gordon Brown’s padlock.