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Britain's PM eats humble pie over snack tax

Matt Cardy / Getty Images, file

In days gone, pasties were the food of miners and farmers -- a robust parcel that (so legend has it) could be dropped steaming hot down a mine shaft or thrown over a high hedge to the agricultural laborers on the other side.

LONDON -- We're a placid bunch, us Brits.

You can call us names and poke us in the eye and we'll pretty much stand there and take it.

So pity the poor misguided chaps who run this country and who decided to try their luck by introducing a tax on ... pasties.

Man the barricades!


For those who are not among the cognoscenti, a pasty is a traditional and tasty food that resembles a meat and potato pie. It has almost iconic status in its place of origin, the distant and beautiful county of Cornwall.

In days gone by, it was the food of miners and farmers -- a robust parcel of pastry (so legend has it) that could be dropped steaming hot down a mine shaft to the menfolk below or thrown over a high hedge to the agricultural laborers on the other side.

According to folklore, in one end there was savory meat, spuds and turnip and -- on the other side of a pastry wall -- fruit jam.  Entree and dessert all in one steaming package.  Genius.

Wpa Pool / Getty Images, file

David Cameron eats a pastry during an election campaign stop on May 1, 2010 in Woodstock, southern England.

No wonder a simpler version was adopted all across the country.  It has become a staple of many a working lunch, snatched from the oven of a high street food store and wolfed down on the nearest bench or at a desk.

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So into this culinary sanctum stumbled the British government.  Always anxious to raise more cash in these dark days of austerity, the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne decided back in March to slap a 20 percent tax on hot snacks like pasties, pies and sausage rolls.

The plan was to raise an extra $150 million.

But Osborne -- a millionaire whose diet does not apparently include pasties -- had no idea that he was about to walk into a political furore that we have seldom seen since the 1990 Poll Tax riots. 

"Half-baked," screamed the tabloids.  "Save our pasties," the nation echoed as people licked their lips and bared their teeth.

A newspaper hired an actress dressed as Marie Antoinette to pursue the hapless Chancellor -- a reminder of her infamous quote that led to revolution across the Channel: "Let them (the poor) eat cake."

Justin Tallis / AFP – Getty Images

Bakers and their supporters hold pastries as they gather outside the prime minister's official residence in London in April to protest and deliver a petition against the so-called pasty tax.

The accident-prone Conservative-led government had walked into a minefield of meat and potato proportions. Politicians rushed to have their photos taken stuffing pasties down their throats.

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Even Prime Minister David Cameron was wrong-footed when asked in Parliament when HE had last eaten a pasty.  He claimed to have done so at a shop that closed down some years ago. Ouch!

So yesterday Cameron and Osborne decided on a change of diet: humble pie.

The Sun's front page story on the British government's 'pastygate' climbdown on Tuesday.

In a humiliating climb-down, the government was forced to abandon its snack tax.

Well, almost.  In a wonderfully British muddle, pasties will avoid tax if they are hot but cooling down out of the oven.  If the shop keeps them hot -- that will be another 20 percent please.

Telegraph video: David Cameron remembers his last pasty

No matter.  Today's papers speak for the nation in declaring victory, with the mass market Sun saying it best: "Pasty la vista, taxman."

Peace has broken out in Britain's leafy suburbs and town centers. One joyous Cornish Member of Parliament said there'd be "dancing in the streets."

But the message to our politicians is clear.

There is, after all, a line you cannot cross.  Our trains may not run when it rains or snows; you may not get through airport passport controls for hours; but mess with our favourite foods and we WILL bite back.

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