Ed Miliband bacon sandwich photograph
A photograph of the then-Labour Party leader Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich was the source of sustained commentary in 2014 and 2015. Taken for the Evening Standard newspaper while Miliband was campaigning for local elections in May 2014, it was said by some to make him look awkward, error prone or incapable of performing simple tasks. It sparked several internet memes, both supportive and mocking, and fuelled a debate about the lengths to which politicians attempt to control their public image. Miliband dismissed the debate, arguing it was unimportant, and others, including opponents, described the media focus on it as unfair or part of a wider negative personality-based media campaign. The photo was used in a mocking front page of The Sun, the UK's most widely read newspaper, on the day before the 2015 general election.
Ed Miliband was elected as Leader of the Labour Party in September 2010 following Labour's defeat at the 2010 general election after thirteen years in government. As Leader of the Opposition, he was tasked with holding the government to account until such time as he could contest the next general election, which was eventually held in May 2015. Following the results of the election, Miliband resigned as Leader of the Labour Party after nearly five years. For the first time since the Second World War, the government formed in May 2010 was a coalition, led by the new Prime Minister David Cameron of the Conservative Party, with Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, becoming Deputy Prime Minister.
The photograph was taken on 21 May 2014 by Jeremy Selwyn in London for the Evening Standard newspaper, during the first stop of Miliband's two-day campaign tour ahead of local and European elections. Arriving at New Covent Garden Market at 6.30am for a planned visit to promote his policies for small businesses, Miliband visited a cafe where the bacon sandwich was consumed.
The Standard published the photographs as part of a gallery of 13, titled "Ed Miliband's Bacon Sandwich", above a story by political editor Joe Murphy, headlined "Ed Miliband's battle with a bacon sandwich as he buys flowers for his wife at London market". Referencing the incident, Murphy's story began:
For a party leader anxious to avoid any more gaffes, what could go wrong buying flowers for the wife? Plenty, it turned out....First came the delicate issue of his bacon roll, a vital accessory when meeting the working classes at breakfast time. Mr Miliband’s battle to consume the greasy treat alarmed his media minders, who tried to stop photographers taking close-ups of butter oozing between his teeth. After a few bites, the Labour leader appeared defeated, and the snack was put into the custody of Lord Wood, a senior shadow cabinet member.
Defending the photographs in December 2014, Selwyn said it was an unplanned shot, and that all politicians are "fair game" despite their press officers' strict controls on photography.
According to the tabloid newspaper The Daily Mirror writing two days after the event, the photograph of Miliband "struggling" to eat the bacon sandwich had immediately generated mockery and claimed it had made him "look a fool". In the ensuing week it became an Internet meme, with online users transposing it onto well-known images from history and popular culture, such as the Last Supper and When Harry Met Sally, under the hashtag #EdEats. Publishing a selection of the parodies, The Daily Telegraph interpreted the incident as a backfired attempt by the Labour leader to look normal, claiming it was his awkward expression which sparked the parodies.
On 19 May 2014, Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was challenged by LBC host Nick Ferrari to eat a bacon sandwich live on air. Clegg expressed empathy with Miliband, saying:
I think this is very unfair because I don't think anyone looks very elegant...I guarantee you, if you were to eat the rest of it and I was to take thousands of pictures while you were doing it, I could manage to produce an unflattering [photograph] or two of you.
The Independent wrote on 21 May 2014 that "despite extensive stage-managing and with a seemingly simple task at hand, the Labour leader still struggled in his bid to look normal and back in touch with the general public", linking it to slip-ups which he had made in recent interviews.
Miliband reacted to the photograph on 25 July 2014 in a speech to party members, saying:
You could probably even find people who look better eating a bacon sandwich. If you want the politician from central casting, it's just not me, it's the other guy. If you want a politician who thinks that a good photo is the most important thing, then don't vote for me.
In November 2014, The Independent writer Boyd Tonkin linked the media narrative around the photograph to antisemitism, stating that "His clumsy aversion to pork products betrays him as an alien, a member of some foreign tribe" while the media reported that Farage ate his sandwich better because "Nige is authentically one of us".
On 6 May 2015, Keith Kahn-Harris wrote in The Guardian "contemporary antisemitism is often strange and difficult to pin down, often disappearing into a miasma of claims and counter-claims. This is yet another example."
Writing on 13 March 2015 in The Guardian, Labour activist Owen Jones said the popularity of the photograph was part of a right-wing media campaign against Miliband, writing that "The media have a wider narrative about Ed Miliband: sad pathetic geeky loser who cannot even eat a bacon sandwich with any dignity. You can easily select photographs to make any politician look undignified, or generally reinforce whatever narrative you have selected". In April 2018, Jones referred to the incident as "antisemitic dog-whistles".
In April 2017, Miliband appeared on The Last Leg and was photographed with another bacon sandwich, while sitting on a motorbike in a leather jacket. The show's host, Adam Hills, said that this was because they needed "to create an alternative photo of Ed with a bacon sandwich and we need to get it trending [on Twitter]".
2015 general election campaign
|Front page of The Sun from 6 May 2015 from the tabloid's Twitter account.|
Parliament dissolved on 30 March, marking the official start of the campaign period for the 2015 general election, with polling day being on 7 May.
On 7 April 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron ate a hot dog with a knife and fork. Although members of the public deemed him "posh" for doing this, The Independent offered the alternative suggestion that Cameron's campaign team were aiming for him to avoid looking like Miliband, which "may have been stage managed one step too far".
The day before polling day, the tabloid newspaper The Sun used the full photo on its front page, partially super-imposed with the headline "Save Our Bacon", with bylines reading "This is the pig's ear Ed made of a helpless sarnie. In 48 hours, he could be doing the same to Britain" above, and "Don't swallow his porkies and keep him out". This was interpreted by The Independent as a front page "entirely dedicated to mocking the Labour leader over the infamous incident." It sparked another Twitter trend in a show of support for the Labour leader, with users sharing photos of themselves eating bacon sandwiches and other food in a deliberately messy fashion, with the hashtag #JeSuisEd, a reference to Je Suis Charlie.
2017 general election campaign
During the 2017 UK general election campaign, a picture of Theresa May eating chips was compared to the photo of Miliband eating the sandwich, to which Miliband tweeted to May, "we should talk...".
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