Politicians who bring home the bacon

Ed Miliband eats a bacon sandwich during a visit to New Covent Garden Flower Market in May 2014I commented before about the weird obsession of journalists with photographing Labour leader Ed Miliband eating bacon sandwiches. Here’s another one. It’s genuinely unclear to me whether this is about demonstrating some kind of general average-Brit bona fides — like when American politicians eat deep-fried corn dogs — or whether it’s more specifically about demonstrating that he’s not too Jewish.

Failed advertising: Henry’s restaurant at the Hotel Durant

I just spent a week at the Hotel Durant in Berkeley. Around the hallways were prominently displayed advertisements for their in-house restaurant Henry’s. “It’s back,” said the signs. “And better than you remember.” A bit further on the signs boasted of food that was “Fresh, seasonal, and surprisingly delicious.” So, my immediate reaction to all of this is, how close to a gastroenterological vision from Dante (first book) was it before the “extensive remodelling”? Without the “surprisingly” my eyes would just skip over the anodyne advertising copy. As it is, I can’t help but wonder why I should be surprised that they have delicious food, and whether this has anything to do with their protesting too much that the food they now serve is “fresh”.

Obviously, they’re trying to convince survivors of their previous version that it’s worth trying again. Maybe it will work. But those of us who were spared the experience are just left wondering how deep the hole was that they are trying to climb out of.

Update: I mentioned this to an older couple, Berkeley natives, and before I could get very far the following dialogue ensued:

“They’re probably referring to…”

“Oh, now don’t mention that. We’re about to eat.”

“Well, it was quite a while ago.”

Free meals from the nanny state

One of the first things the Cameron-Clegg government did when it came into power in 2010 was to announce the revocation of child benefit from families where one earner earned above £42,000 p.a. (the threshold for the 40% marginal tax bracket). They’ve held to this — and the implicit penalty for single-income families — though they have sensibly replaced the sharp cutoff, which would have caused some people to actually lose money if they got a salary raise, by a more gradual cutoff between £50,000 and £60,000. This was superficially sensible — in times of austerity, why should wealthy parents be getting a government handout? — although most developed countries have some sort of tax credit for children, reflecting a sense that some of the cost of taking care of children should be seen as public costs. In the US this comes in the form of an income deduction, so that high-income parents who pay more tax also get a larger subsidy, so the old UK system was less biased toward subsidising wealthy parents. For that matter, the same is true of the credit for childcare expenses in the UK, which comes in the form of paying expenses with pretax income, effectively giving a larger subsidy to wealthier parents. This has been slightly modified, but it still favours the wealthy.

Anyway, so far so consistent. But now the government has announced that they want to spend more money on children, to provide free school lunches to all children up to age 7. (Poor children already get free lunches, and there is also free fruit for children up to age 7.) The rhetoric around it is the government claim that parents don’t know how to pack appropriately nutritious lunches for their children. So the government has taken away a subsidy that parents could have spent in any way the choose — including nutritious lunches — and replaced it with a subsidy to the companies that have not been very successful at convincing children to eat their lunches voluntarily. And this from the party that attacks Labour as the party of the “nanny state”. If I had a nanny who insisted they had better ideas than I of what my children should eat, I would fire them.

It’s not entirely the Conservatives’ fault. This seems to have been some sort of coalition bargain to gain Liberal Democrat support for their even more pointless priority of a tax subsidy for married couples (whether or not they have children).