Photo: The Sun / @Suttonnick
Yesterday, David Cameron’s UK Conservative Government decided to overturn its plan to impose a 20% sales tax (VAT) on hot goods sold from supermarkets and other outlets.You may remember the controversy that surrounded that plan when it emerged in March of this year. One specific aspect of the tax was that it would cause a rise of 20p in the cost of pasties (a type of hot pastry not unlike a pie) sold by high street baker’s like Greggs — a bastion of British culture and working class food, if the UK’s tabloids were to be believed.
In that unique British style of scandal, the incident swiftly became “pastygate”, a huge scandal that showed exactly how out-of-touch the UK Conservative elite is. “LET THEM EAT COLD PASTY” ran the headline of the UK’s best selling daily paper The Sun.
The attacks became increasingly personal. UK Chancellor George Osborne was challenged in court about whether he could remember the last time he had eaten a pasty from Greggs (he couldn’t remember), while David Cameron’s attempt to placate the angry mob (“I love a hot pasty”) backfired when the motorway service station he mentioned in his bizarre anecdote about eating pasties turned out to be closed when he said he had eaten there.
After that, perhaps a u-turn was inevitable, and now Greggs’ shares are reportedly up 6% on the new plan, which will mean that food that is cooked on-site and then left to cool will not attract VAT, while food kept warm will.
The thing everyone is forgetting, however, is that the “pasty tax” is actually quite a good idea.
In fact, its so commonsensical that it barely even qualifies as an idea — all food sold warm and designed to be eaten straight away should be taxed in the same way. Just because Greggs leaves their food out to become dry and flaky before reheating it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taxed the same way as the local Burger place or Chinese food restaurant. The tax is less a new idea and more a plan to close an unfair loophole.
It also ignores the true (and relatively noble) aim of the legislation — to prevent supermarkets from dominating the market. Chain supermarkets in the UK have been selling cheap hot food for years at a lower tax rate than local, often independent hot food outlets. The aim of the legislation was to level the playing field.
The very fact that Greggs is being held up as a bastion of British food culture is incredibly depressing also. Sure, pasties are great and Greggs is a good example of a successful British business, but the food itself is exactly the dreary, low quality food that visitors to the UK complain about — of course George Osborne hasn’t eaten there in years (if ever), when you are on his salary you would be mad to.
The problem for the Conservatives is that the issue was so symbolic. Cameron has been branded an “arrogant, out of touch posh boy” by members of his own party, and the same budget that called for a tax on pasties also ended the 50p tax rate (something that, unlike a tax on pasties, is very likely to affect many of Cameron and Osborne’s schoolmates).
Opposition party Labour has jumped on the u-turn, calling the entire debacle “a shambles”. And they’re right, because the entire situation shows just how badly the Conservatives are losing the UK’s never-ending class war.
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