Pasties, Petrol, And The PR Of UK Politics

While the country goes nuts panic buying petrol and pasties, politicians are quietly sweeping the more pressing and uncomfortable issues under the rug. Luke Holland looks at how the country got spun. Again.
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While the country goes nuts panic buying petrol and pasties, politicians are quietly sweeping the more pressing and uncomfortable issues under the rug. Luke Holland looks at how the country got spun. Again.

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Pastry, Petrol and the PR of UK Politics

Pasty: it’s such a soothing, succinct gem of a word, fitting so snugly with the comforting, cheeky and yet ultimately benign indulgence it depicts. It’s also a word that’s found itself sown so abundantly across every UK multimedia news outlet in the past week that it’s beginning to sound like gibberish – like when you repeat a word so often to yourself you begin to think you might  have made it up, like ‘skunk’, or ‘sluice’, or ‘Jedward’. Yet this harmless little baked noun, ensconced within the indecipherable and intentionally baffling small print of George Osborne’s recent budget, has, over the course of this week, kicked up a stink of almighty proportions. Much like, in fact, a skunk, a sluice, or Jedward.

We, the pastry-snaffling British public, are now to pay VAT on our baked goods, adding a whopping 20% onto the amount of our hard-earned we must part with to get our mitts on a translucent paper bag full of Greggs’ finest. Britain – usually so reserved when faced with price hikes to its beloved vices, not to mention in similarly pressing times of recession and war – is joyously incandescent, and our national outrage shows no signs whatsoever of abating. ‘How dare they!’ the hordes of marching protesters will soon wail; ‘This is a step too far!’ the angular graffiti emblazoned across the post-Pasty Riot husks of our previously crystalline cities will exclaim; ‘YOU’LL DIE A SLOW AND PAINFUL DEATH...SOON...’ the barrage of mailed death-threats will promise – all addressed to ‘The Pasty Cunt at Number 10’ - the threats on each tellingly etched in the shaky, childish hieroglyphs of another rattling wretch going cold-turkey from their deliciously-baked saturated fats and agonisingly scorched palates.

In a week already popping out of its breeches with rage, the Government also saw fit to compound an already buoyant public feeling of hopelessness by unsheathing another assault on the frail countenance of Joe Public: Petrol. Seemingly feckless Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude began by suggesting that, in the looming shadow of a tanker driver’s strike, we should all store jerry-cans of go-juice at home, just in case – advice which York resident Diane Hill suffered horrific 40% burns trying to heed. This followed the previous suggestion that vehicle’s tanks should be kept brim-full, also ‘just in case’. Presumably, to ease any further potential panic, The Cabinet will soon issue a statement decreeing it is in the public interest if we all simply scavenge and fight for the last remaining drops of precious fuel; within minutes, our dusty streets would be festooned with ragged Darwinian individuals, hosepipes in mouths, siphoning fuel from the tanks of cars belonging to the bloodied and pulverised corpses which still lie warm beside them. Before long, no-one will be left to ask the government just what the blithering fuck it though it was doing - The Coalition has an end-game in mind, and clearly it is Thunderdome.

But what did the opposition have to say about all this? Surely, with the Government currently nothing more than a flailing amorphous blur of arses and elbows, it’s an open goal? An opportunity to get a few easy toe-pokes into the small of the opponent’s back while they’re rolling on the deck, bewildered with agony, clutching their throbbing and flattened testicles? Surely, all Labour had to do was quietly observe the coalition making a sow’s lughole of everything within fifty miles of any of its members and then issue a statement saying ‘We would have done the exact opposite.’ They didn’t.

Responding to the fuel strike they were, at least, grimly predictable: Ed Miliband feigned disgust (and, in doing so, managed to look approximately 30% more like a cow catcher made of flaccid penises and Savlon) and called on the government to apologise for the ‘shambles.’ So far, so Labour, so what.

With Pastygate, however, Labour’s PR bods apparently hatched a more creative, media-savvy plan: its top brass must show solidarity with the pasty and visit one of the fine establishments which specialises is their peddling. What actually transpired was that the nation bore reluctant witness to the now near-infamous horror of Miliband, Ed ‘no need to insert a joke in my name’ Balls and shadow chief secretary Rachel Reeves ‘visiting’ a Redditch branch of Greggs to ‘spontaneously’ purchase ‘eight’ ‘sausage rolls’. It was magnificent car crash TV, so awkward and explosively humiliating for all involved that some of those watching at home actually broke major bones, such was the monumental extent to which their arseholes clenched.

Each of the three, in their own, unique way, wore the despaired expression of someone trying to maintain a smile while a vet searched their anus for a lost watch:  Balls seemed utterly baffled by the notion that one was actually able to exchange currency for goods at all, while Reeves seemed all-too aware of the clawing discomfort of the situation and therefore increased its magnitude threefold. Best of all was Ed Miliband, whose aptitude for looking horrifically awkward and out of place is so keen he could probably do it in the dark.

And yet, as terrible and wonderful as this all is, something’s not quite right... there’s a faint, forgotten whiff lingering at the higher end of the senses, but its source is a mystery; like some almost-memory that, in the past few days’ pasty and petrol brouhaha-ing has been forgotten. Wasn’t there, before all this, something we were annoyed about? Some kind of scandal? Corruption? Something?

This is because, quite simply, all the last four days represents is a complete, thorough, and resounding victory for the coalition’s spin doctors – a victory so expertly devised and executed that we should probably track them all down, shake their hands and buy them a frosty pint of whatever it is they drink - possibly lamb’s blood, or the triple-distilled tears of Nick Clegg.

4 days ago, snoresheets and tabloids alike were ablaze with apoplexic fury at the ‘cash for dinners’ scandal. One which, if you recall, proved beyond any doubt that, not only was it possible for wealthy tycoons and businesspeople to buy a seat at David Cameron’s dinner table for £250,000 with the sole intention of influencing government policy, it was an alarmingly common practice.

Besides an eloquent and succinct David Mitchell rant on 10 O’Clock Live on Wednesday night, the extent to which this exposition of bungs, corruption and skulduggery has been forgotten is utterly remarkable. It’s been smothered beneath an impenetrable quilt of taxed pastry, before being doused with the few remaining gallons of petrol available to the perpetually fist-fucked populace of this country and torched beyond all recognition; and, with it, any acceptance that the ruling party of the UK is as open to nefarious outside influence as a hard-up Salman Butt. Pasties and petrol are merely the attention-diverting bunch of keys rattled before our delighted faces while our wallets are picked; they’re the matador’s red towel, through which the media obediently charges, which allows the corrupt, onesie-wearing bastard that is the cash-for-dinners story to escape unscathed to your house so he can have sex with your family.

One might think Labour would possibly echo this sentiment, perhaps raising the point in PMQs that – as important as fuel and baked goods are – there a bigger issues to discuss. For instance, shouldn’t someone be getting twatted with hefty corruption charges right about now? Yes they should, clearly – unless, of course, any further delving into the practice of buying political influence could possibly unearth a couple of skeletons lurking in the murky Narnia of their own closets. Three prominent members of the party making utter cocks of themselves in a bakery probably isn’t exactly what Labour’s own spin doctors had in mind but they’re probably mighty glad that it happened – they’re just as happy to sweep this under the rug as the coalition, and Milliband, Reeves and Balls merely committed unintentional harakari.

We should clearly all be properly fucking outraged that, not only is this scandal-burying being allowed to happen, but that it seems to be a unilateral strategy across all parties.  Yet the problem is that it’s simply more fun for us to talk about pasties, petrol and PR than it is to bother ourselves with pesky questions about the very foundations of the political infrastructure of this country or the veracity of any information that manages to bleed through the barely-porous filtration system of its spin doctors. Spin doctors, that is, who have more than earned their not inconsiderable wages this week.

Half of the word count of this article is devoted to pasties, petrol and PR, because, from a water-cooler perspective, it is more fun to talk about these things, isn’t it? What’s more important, though, is asking why we’re talking about these things and not about the giant fucking elephant in the room that is, as we speak, tip-toeing out of a side door, sniggering, while under its breath it calls us all stupid, gullible idiots.

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