Toeing the breadline

A Tory backbencher’s assertion that London mayor Boris Johnson and Prime Minister David Cameron are just “two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk” rang somewhat true this month, as both demonstrated an ironic ignorance to the price of daily staples.

But it was Cameron who came under the most criticism for not knowing the price of a loaf of bread. Thanks to an interview with LBC Radio, Cameron’s love of breadmaking via machine has been ousted. His guess when grilled was that a value sliced loaf of bread costs “well north of a pound”. He admitted he’s partial to some locally milled Cotswold Crunch straight from his Panasonic breadmaker. It all smacks of posho, of privilege – and of pedantry.

Politicians have this habit of falling foul to food politics for personal image gain. It’s the one thing we all have in common and holds the power to identify wealth by what you eat (or don’t eat). First there was pastygate, where being in the same pasty shop as ‘the common man’ was justified with photocalls in Greggs from ministers. Then came George Osborne chowing down on his £10 burger. It was schoolboy stuff; an embarrassment to British politics. Is this what it’s come to? That the best basis to demonstrate that these guys are gritty just like the rest of us is to prove they too love a bit of flaky pastry action or a filthy burger? Oooh, we’re one and the same! So the matter of Cameron making his own bread overnight, waking up No. 10 to wafts of Costwoldy crusts and opening his children’s eyes to a world of granary is not the everyday language of today’s Britain. Instead it’s an image that’s turned the stomach of a nation already convinced its government doesn’t understand food poverty.

But are we missing the point here? Should we really expect the Prime Minister to know the price of a value product, and does that make him any less of a leader? Would we similarly chastise him for not knowing the price of eggs, of toilet bleach or a bag of apples? Why hasn’t there been more congratulation of the fact that actually, he’s supporting a local producer and not the conglomerate that’s shutting down folks that give fancy and alliterative names to flour, or that he’s comprehensively ticking the boxes of the Real Bread Campaign? According to the Campaign, it works actually out around 7.5p cheaper to make your own bread than to buy a supermarket value sliced loaf, even when factoring in energy costs and choosing a higher cost flour.

David Cameron doesn’t know the price of a value loaf because he doesn’t have to. There seems to be this expectation that knowing the price will deem him a credible politician in touch with food poverty and the climate change that’s partly responsible for driving up food costs. But there are so many more pointers proving this government isn’t in touch with food poverty, like Education Secretary Michael Gove’s accusations that food bank users simply can’t manage their finances; the fact the government has recently scrapped collecting official food bank statistics; or that another Tory MP summised that food banks could become “a habit”. Revising by rote the cost of a sliced white really has nothing to do with this government’s masquerade of politicians pretending to care, and knowing it wouldn’t change any of the above.

So yes, Cameron’s breadmaker is a moot point. Yes he’s potentially saving money by buying flour from a local producer, and his overnight bake means he’s saving time so he can get on with that politics stuff. At least then we can hope he’s getting to grips with the other kind of bread-themed politics: living on the breadline.

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