When it was first suggested to me that vegetables have a highly political nature I was scratching my head, but after no more than a few seconds online I came across a photo of Jeremy Corbyn holding an enormous marrow and my mind was suddenly full of possibilities. If Corbyn, apparently a keen allotment gardener, is the politician of this retro, half-forgotten crop, crammed with a quantity of useless pips, so often gifted but so seldom chopped and cooked, to what might his colleagues be compared? Is Cameron a broad bean – tough-skinned, plump and shiny, sometimes with a pinkish blush, so often consigned to a disappointing summer soup, or is he the more popular man-of-the-people baked bean?
The more I thought about it the more some politicians struck me as having a natural and obvious vegetable daemon: Boris, pale, lumpy, rare in flavour and short of season, capable of dangerous gusts and backdrafts, puts one immediately in mind of a Jerusalem artichoke, while Jacob Rees-Mogg is unquestionably a spear of asparagus, expensively reared, combative in shape, woody yet delicate, too refined for the wider populace to bother with, never mind the hollandaise.
Among the popular leaves we have Chuka Umunna, a bunch of farmer’s market kale, glossy and overpriced, nowadays so popular in smoothies, and Angela Eagle puts one in mind of a lettuce: limp and floppy most of the time but capable of being crisp and peppery at the dispatch box. If it’s cabbage you want, boiled to oblivion of course, go for Skinner or Pickles (a cross party vegetable this), forgotten by some, feared by others, hidden under a fork or pushed to the edge of the plate.
Diane Abbott is Parliament’s purple sprouting, or should I say ‘spouting’, broccoli, a humble vegetable overbred and gone unexpectedly Waitrose.
Theresa May is a bunched organic carrot tossed in butter, common sense but a bit cheffy, and Andrea Leadsom a stick of celery, potentially useful in many dishes but stringy and always in need of careful preparation. Michael Gove can only be the human embodiment of a beetroot: an honest, flexible ingredient, useful raw or cooked, packed with nutrients but cursed by the reddish stain it leaves all over the place, while George Osborne, a turnip, has exactly the opposite problem: old-school, increasingly niche, he’s also suspiciously pallid. Add one to the stew if you must, but don’t be too upfront about it.
Mr Speaker? Another root; a potato perhaps, knobbly, covered with eyes. Ruth Davidson is a radish and Nicola Sturgeon is a tin of peas, half-used and kept in the fridge. Alex Salmond? Vegetable? Don’t be ridiculous.
Nigel Farage is lucky: loathed by many yet deeply wedged in the national psyche, productive of greenish juice, popular (and surprisingly lethal) as dining hall ammunition in public schools and Oxbridge colleges, the Brussels sprout is his own very special legume. Year after year we bin them, year after year we want them back.
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