Politicians used to be allowed to be distant and dignified. And when it comes to eating in public, it should stay that way. Just ask Ed Miliband or David Cameron.
Short of being photographed as one of those curving toilet doors on a Virgin Train slides gently open, revealing a mess of bare knees and shirt tails, there is one photograph that the modern politician fears more than any other: the eating shot. Look at what that image of Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich did to him: the way the lips folded back and curled, how the eyes began to roll back in his head like he had reached some private moment of truth. That one image raised a brutal question: could you imagine this man, the one with the expression like the ketamine has just kicked in, running the country?
Now consider all the politicians run ragged by the election campaign so far, and have pity on their souls. For all day every day what they are thinking is this: please God, let nobody take a picture of me eating. It so terrified David Cameron that, apparently haunted by Miliband bacon sandwich gate, he responded to a hot dog encountered on the campaign trail by eating it with a knife and fork. And he still managed to look a bit of a knob.
It’s terribly unfair. In the old days politicians were allowed to be dignified and remote figures, other-worldly emissaries from Planet Leadership. Now, in the age of the selfie and the close-up, we insist they be just like us. We insist they be human. And what could be more human than the act of eating? Eating is genuinely a shared experience. The problem is it’s an ugly, ungainly shared experience. It’s just too human.
Try watching the people you love eating. It’s a mess. As you open your mouth, there’s a flash of wobble and pink of the sort the pathologist will see when they come to conduct the inevitable postmortem on your chilling cadaver. There is the sticky shine of saliva, there’s the way your eyelids flutter, your lips roll outwards. Ever seen a German Shepherd running excitedly towards its owner, its tongue flapping in the wind? That’s you, photographed eating, only without the excitement.
This shouldn’t be regarded as a negative. Eating is messy because it’s meant to be. Show me someone who daintily forks away morsels between tidy, pursed lips and I will show you someone who could never be my friend. Recently I was invited to participate in a wretched “art” project, which involved eating with other people in silence. No surprise that it would be in Berlin. I would rather lick the inside of my composting box than take part in something like that which sucks the life from the dining table. Eating should be noisy and generous, a mess of flailing body parts.
Curiously, moving images of people eating are fine, which is good because television is full of them. Some of them are of me. It’s the freeze frame that doesn’t work. Even Barack Obama, the coolest politician on the planet, looks unelectable when photographed eating. If you really want to put yourself off your lunch Google the image of Barack Obama and David Cameron eating together at a ball game. They look like unloved cats expelling fur balls. Me, I refuse to be photographed eating. It’s a red line. I won’t do it. And do you know who else was never photographed eating? Winston Churchill, a chap who knew a thing or two about maintaining his dignity. That’s who. I rest my case.
Top Photo: Ed Miliband and the infamous bacon sandwich; David Cameron and the notorious hot dog. Photograph: Rex/Getty