How the humble Cornish pasty became a political hot potato

Crumbs! Labour goes to Greggs in row over VAT on hot food, but the trail of Cameron's pastry hit goes cold

Not so long ago politicians were content to demonstrate their credentials as a likeable everyman by kissing babies and shaking voters' 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 damaging 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 claiming he had most recently eaten a West Cornwall Pasty Company snack in Leeds.

"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 could not remember the last time he had visited a Greggs bakery.

Meanwhile in Redditch, Labour leader Ed Miliband and his shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, popped into a branch of the local Greggs to exploit the Government's discomfort over the issue. The pair spent £4.70 on eight sausage rolls, highlighting the confusion over when a hot pasty was indeed hot – and thus eligible for VAT under the Chancellor's aim to unify tax 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... And the Chancellor's excuse? He says you can buy them cold and you can avoid the tax," said Mr Miliband.

Yet if the Prime Minister was hoping he had taken some of the heat out of the debate, he was mistaken. "I think the last one I bought was from the West Cornwall Pasty Company. I seem to remember I was in Leeds station at the time... I have got a feeling I opted for the large one, and very good it was too," he boldly claimed.

But as reporters descended on the station to check the facts, it emerged the last West Cornwall Pasty Company outlet on the concourse had closed nearly five years ago – which means it had either served Mr Cameron a very memorable pie or he had mis-remembered.

To compound the confusion, the only recently trading outlet, The Cornish Bakehouse, which opened in January 2010, had closed three weeks previously, a victim perhaps of the sluggish economic revival in the city. None of the staff working nearby could recall the PM dropping by recently for a quick bite.

The episode took a final late-night twist when BBC2's Newsnight reported that it had been contacted by Downing Street to clarify that the Prime Minister had bought the pasty in Liverpool – and not Leeds – after all. The case continues.

But there were also questions over Mr Balls' genuine love of the high-street pasty. Recently spotted training in "very tight, unedifying trousers", he has 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 – even if it's costing people quite a lot more in tax to come here in the future," he said.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick