While we here in the States are embroiled in such mundane things like GhostwritingGate and ParkSlopeCo-OpGate and HealthCareGate, the raging debate across the pond in the United Kingdom involves something far more fascinating: Cornish pasties. Last week, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne presented his annual budget, which included a reduction in the top income tax rate and — more importantly — a proposed 20% value-added tax (VAT) on certain hot foods, including Cornish pasties and sausage rolls.
Pasties, empanada-like pastries stuffed with hearty chunks of beef, potatoes and other fillings, were staples for miners and farmers in the 17th century, and endure today as a popular, inexpensive snack. Which explains why the so-called “pasty tax” has erupted into a class war of sorts, with Osborne and his Conservative Party on one side, and the opposing Labour Party on the other.
As The Guardian explains, the VAT applies to food “once it is heated to 'above-air ambient temperature,' and meant to be eaten in or near the shop or restaurant.” Pasties and “most hot food sold by bakers and supermarkets,” however, are not currently taxed, because a loophole allows such foods to be sold sans VAT if they are not intended to be eaten right away and are “only kept hot to improve its appearance and aroma.”
The proposed tax would close the loophole and “make 20% VAT payable on all food served above 'ambient' air temperature, including pies, pasties and toasted sandwiches.” If levied, the tax would considerably increase the price of a hot pasty; the West Cornwall Pasty Company, for example, tells The Guardian that its “medium pasty would go up from £3.40 to £4.50. In these economic times, we just can't do that to people.”
Worse than the idea of the tax was, perhaps, Osborne's defense of it during a recent parliamentary hearing. When asked about the last time he had a pasty at Greggs, a popular bakery chain in the U.K., a flummoxed Osborne stated that he could not remember. This moment was, we think, akin to a Los Angeles mayoral candidate not being able to pinpoint the last time he had a taco.
Then, in a let-them-eat-cold-cake moment, Osborne distinguished between cold pasties (not taxable) and hot ones (taxable). In response, at least one pasty shop owner has suggested separate lines for those who can afford hot pasties, and those who cannot.
In an effort to pressure the government to abandon its VAT plans, The Guardian reports, Greggs may organize a “march of the bakers” against the tax. Meanwhile, Labour leader Ed Miliband recently dropped by a Greggs shop for sausage rolls, no doubt to pander to the Joe the Plumbers on the high street. The worst of times, indeed.