On Wednesday morning, on Times Radio, the terminally bewildered health secretary, Matt Handcock, claimed unchallenged that our imminent departure from the EU meant the Covid vaccine had been approved more quickly. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency quickly clarified we had completed the process using existing provisions of EU law. If the Brexit-Covid government cannot be trusted to be truthful about so trivial a matter as EU pandemic vaccines, how can they be trusted with scotch eggs?
The provision of substantial meals allows pubs to serve alcohol during the Covid crisis. The legislation reveals ever greater depths to the Conservatives’ contempt for ordinary working people, like tin miners and functioning alcoholics/social drinkers. In October, the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, who in May unlawfully approved a £1bn housing development by the subsequent Conservative donor Richard Desmond, suggested a pasty could be a substantial meal, but only if it were accompanied by chips or salad.
Jenrick flobs in the faces of poor Cornish tinners, for whom the pasty was baked precisely because it was considered a substantial meal in and of itself. But were pasties served up at the Savoy’s £12,000-a-head Conservative party fundraising dinner last November, where Jenner sat next to Desmond? No. They were not. At least Jenrick doesn’t think they were, but he was busy looking at property development pitches on Desmond’s phone.
Jenrick’s colleague, the environment secretary, George Eustice, has served the pasty industry since 2012, when he lobbied against George Osborne’s pasty tax and was presented with a giant knitted pasty by grateful Cornish yarn bombers for his pains. I have not made this up. But Eustice spoke instead in favour of the scotch egg, which, he told LBC, “often might be a starter but… probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service”. Realising the scotch egg was becoming a hot potato, Tobias Ellwood MP swerved it on Sky and a spokesman for Boris Johnson refused to be drawn on the status of sausage rolls or pork pies.
The chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, immediately rebuked Eustice on ITV, maintaining, “a couple of scotch eggs is a starter as far as I am concerned. My own preference when it comes to a substantial meal might be more than just a scotch egg, but that’s because I’m a hearty trencherman.” In using the archaic word “trencherman”, which commonly means “a healthy eater”, Gove was deploying a debating society trick, also favoured by his nemesis, Boris Johnson, to obscure an essential lack of content with fussy language. But the word “trencherman” also means “a parasite, a hanger-on and one who steals from others’ tables”, while the word “Gove”, as well as being an ancient Scottish name and therefore uncontroversial, is also a verb meaning “to stare stupidly”. We are all prisoners of language.
Presumably, the stupidly staring parasite was then convinced to qualify his scotch egg position, as 45 minutes later he contradicted himself, the speed of his U-turn indicating a vacuum at the heart of government since Dominic Cumming ran away with a box of dirt. Gove now told ITV News that “a scotch egg is a substantial meal. I myself would definitely scoff a couple of scotch eggs if I had the chance, but I do recognise it is a substantial meal.” Gove appears to be describing a sad, strange life in which he must “scoff” scotch eggs furtively, if he “has the chance”, away from the watchful eyes of one who would take his eggs from him.
On Wednesday, a catatonically flappy Handcock further fouled the eggnog by saying, tautologously: “A scotch egg that is served as a substantial meal is a substantial meal.” Handcock shifted the responsibility of defining the nature of the scotch egg away from government and on to the context in which the scotch egg was presented. When is a scotch egg not a substantial meal? When it is presented as a snack. And vice versa. A scotch egg can be whatever it wants to be. But will reactionary trope-mongers such as John Cleese and the “Wokefinder General” Ricky Gervais accept the fluid identities of Handcock’s eggs? John Cleese’s scotch egg could perhaps identify as a Cambodian policewoman, Gervais’s as a chimpanzee. Ha!
In an effort to understand, I have just been out and bought scotch eggs from Marks & Spencer and Aldi, and I eat them as I write this. M&S scotch eggs are on the whole roughly one-third more expensive, significantly tastier and more appetisingly textured than Aldi’s, but contain identical percentages of pork. The smaller versions of the scotch eggs, which Sainsbury’s optimistically calls Party Eggs, are called Mini Snack Eggs by M&S. This suggests the eggs are snacks, as Gove initially insisted, but presumably if you were to eat the same weight of Mini Snack Eggs as the standard supermarket scotch egg double pack, roughly 270g, and serve it with some kind of garnish, those snack eggs would then count as a substantial meal.
Aldi calls its not especially tasty smaller scotch eggs not Snack Eggs or Party Eggs, but Mini Savoury Eggs, though the packaging is emblazoned with the hopeful exhortation “Let’s Party!” This invites two questions: at which point does a scotch egg snack become a scotch egg party and how many families will be allowed to attend such a party during the five-day festive infection amnesty. Perhaps Gove knows. The Aldi larger scotch eggs, whose packaging does not command you to party, are supplied by Crestwood Foods. They cost 89p a packet. Your Tory rulers, who broker deals with their friends at £12,000-a-head dinners, have just classified them, by stealth, as a “substantial meal”. Enjoy your Brexit breakfast.
Stewart Lee recites Anglo-Saxon poetry on the new single by Asian Dub Foundation, Coming Over Here; contributes words concerning landscape and folklore to the medieval minimalist Laura Cannell’s new album, These Feral Lands; has expletive-laden art prints ridiculing Boris Johnson available from new-north-press.co.uk; and his comedy catalogue is newly digitally available from mediagarageproductions.com