Scotch Egg-ageddon: The new sideshow from the banal British media that brought you Bacon Sandwichgate
"Why are we having to report on Scotch Eggs?" cry political journalists who are dangerously addicted to banality.
|Mic Wright||Dec 2, 2020|
I once went on a press trip to Korea. It was to visit various Samsung factories and was, despite how glorious Korea is as a country, often pretty boring. One mobile phone fabricating facility quickly comes to look like the last and our hosts’ pride in showing us every single aspect of each manufacturing process wore a little thin by day three.
But it was a trip for the international media, which meant there was not just out little crew of British hacks traipsing around. We were joined by press gangs from across the continent, the largest among them being a set of uniformly serious German reporters for whom there could not be enough detail. While we quietly took the piss and waited to return to the rather glorious hotel bar — which looked out over Seoul — the Germans studiously took notes on everything.
After the trip, a clumsy PR managed to cc: me into the post-mortem on the events, which noted the can-do/will-do attitude of the Germans and wrote of our ragtag band of tech reprobates: “While pleasant, the UK reporters were clearly not as engaged as other groups. They seemed more interested in getting to the bar than in our latest innovations…”
I felt a little guilty then and am still feeling slightly guilty about it 13 years later.
There is a problem in British journalism and British political journalism especially: It has a tendency to be unserious. While we rightly mock the front page of The New York Times for being dryer than Ben Shapiro’s wife on date night, the fact is that British hacks have a horrifying addiction to banalities, cheap jokes, and the kind of slang and shorthand that should have left us around the time The Benny Hill Show was cancelled (1989, for the record).
To read The Sun on a daily basis is to wander into a time capsule of boarish, sexist, “lads, lads, lads” tedium. But it’s not just the tabloids by any stretch of the imagination: The broadsheets, while believing themselves above it all, are just as keen on focusing on trivialities while important questions go unanswered.
And so I come with a grim inevitability to… Scotch eggs.
For the past 48 hours, the British media has been more obsessed with scotch eggs than a man with a sausage meat fetish.
An off-hand comment by tweedy Environment Secretary, George Eustice, that a Scotch egg would — in his opinion — constitute a “substantial meal” if it were delivered to your table was enough to set off hundreds of frontpages, features, comment pieces, broadcast asides and tedious follow up questions about pork scratchings. This all mattered hugely, apparently, because it illustrated the inconsistencies in the British government’s newly-established tier system for England. Only, it didn’t…
Because while journalists, in print, online, and broadcasting on radio and TV, will argue that the micro (the Scotch egg question) tells us about the macro (the government’s continuing ability to have a coherent strategy) that’s not actually true. By becoming obsessed with one part of one answer by one minister, the media allows the government to duck real scrutiny on the wider issue and, in fact, present genuine questions from reporters as yet more silliness from a deeply unserious profession.
That Eustice’s answer, followed by a contradicting one by the grotesque animatronic Michael Gove, was allowed to take up so much space in print and so much time during broadcasts, was pretty pathetic.
All the while, more and more information drips out about the government’s widespread corruption during the PPE procurement process — less ‘jobs for the boys’, more ‘jobs for the entire extended family’ — and the fundamental flaws in its Christmas strategy go without proper analysis.
From the obsession with Ed Miliband’s clumsy consumption of a bacon sandwich — replete with antisemitic undertones — to the incessant discussion of Theresa May’s fields of wheat, Boris Johnson’s hair, and practically anything Diane Abbott does or doesn’t do (the most consistently racist coverage received by any politician). British political journalists often descend to the levels of Year 10s gossiping at the bus stop.
This tendency to get tripped up by and tangled up in trivialities reveals a lot about the Lobby and wider political press: They see politics as a game — an endless five-a-side match between players who oscillate between fleet-footed and utterly flabby and useless, depending on the needs of the story and the view of the publication’s proprietors. The number of reports that focus on "the optics” of this or that discussion or how a particular politician is “playing” with the party is instructive.
Political hacks like ‘Scotch Egg’-style stories because a) they’re funny b) they’re easy to understand and c) they don’t require them to unpick the motivations behind policy.
Whether a Scotch egg is “substantial” remains debatable, but there’s no doubt that British hacks have made a meal of this story.