LONDON (Reuters) - In an election that will shape the destiny of the United Kingdom, anguish over how to eat bacon sandwiches and hot dogs has brought a note of absurdity to the battle for Downing Street.
The May 7 vote could throw Britain’s membership of the European Union into doubt or give Scottish nationalists, who want to break up the United Kingdom, the role of kingmaker in the London parliament.
For Prime Minister David Cameron and opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband, though, the struggle for power has brought an array of culinary, and cutlery, challenges.
Since appearing to want to vomit while eating a bacon sandwich live on television last May, Miliband has repeatedly raised the issue on campaign, even quipping that he could share one of Britain’s best loved breakfast treats with Cameron.
“I think if I had my time again, I wouldn’t eat a bacon sandwich live on TV,” Miliband told a magazine as he set out his bid to follow Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.
“But the election is not a bacon sandwich-eating competition. I probably wouldn’t win if it was.”
Determined to avoid what the media called “Ed Miliband’s bacon sandwich incident”, Cameron used a knife and fork to eat a hot dog at a barbecue on one campaign visit.
For the confused, the Daily Mail explained that the prime minister, educated at the country’s most famous school and a distant relative of the queen, had a “chequered history with hot dogs”.
“In 2010 he caused offense on a visit to New York when he asked for a plain sausage, without even onions,” it wrote. “And in March 2012 he was said to have tried eating one sideways while at a basketball game with President Obama.”
With the choice of Britain’s leader resting at least partly on their table manners, the Labour party invited the television cameras into the Miliband family home.
Photographs showed Ed and his wife Justine standing in a narrow, white kitchen drinking tea.
A columnist at the Daily Mail was appalled.
“Not much prospect of a decent meal emanating from that mean, sterile, little box,” wrote Sarah Vine, also the wife of a most senior Conservative politician, Michael Gove.
The affair took a surreal turn when it was revealed that Miliband was actually in his second kitchen, a small add-on reserved for making tea and quick snacks.
Desperately trying to protect his left-wing credentials, Miliband said he rarely used the larger, more attractive kitchen in his 2 million pound ($2.9 million) London house.
“Revealed: Ed’s two-kitchen secret,” splashed the Times.
To outsiders, the island nation’s political discourse may seem bizarre.
Having led one story on a poll showing 71 percent of the population were not interested in the leaders’ wives or their kitchens, the Daily Mail devoted the rest of the article to ranking the wives and their kitchens.
“One interior designer said the Clegg kitchen was ‘middle of the road’... and in need of refreshing,” it said of the leader of the smaller Liberal Democrat party, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
‘BEER AND FAGS’
One politician who rarely brings his family into politics is Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) who has spent much of the campaign in the pub.
Farage, a 51-year-old former commodities trader, likes to portray himself as a man of the people, with a pint of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
His party has suspended or expelled some members for racist comments while Farage himself has been attacked for criticizing foreign HIV sufferers and “ostentatious” breastfeeding.
One UKIP candidate was reported to have been replaced after writing on Facebook that Israel should kidnap Obama for declassifying U.S. documents on Israel’s nuclear program.
Farage had to leave one pub where he was having lunch after being confronted by protesters, including breastfeeding women.
In a bid for female votes, UKIP pledged to end what it called the “tampon tax”. The price of sanitary products for women, it said, had been kept too high by men in Brussels.
The pledge contrasted with comments by UKIP member Godfrey Bloom who said in 2013 that women should spend more time cleaning behind the fridge.
Those who failed in this, he said, were “sluts”. He has since quit the party.
Patrick O‘Flynn, the party’s economics spokesman, said UKIP did sometimes resemble a “rugby club on tour” with its boorish and chauvinistic behavior, but he said the party needed to reach out to women voters.
“There is no reason why we should be lagging with female voters,” he said. “We need to work harder.”
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Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Giles Elgood