John McDonnell came well-prepared for his Mumsnet interview: stock answers on antisemitism, nepotism and biscuits. Yes, biscuits. His mother had worked behind the biscuit counter at BHS and they lived off broken biscuits – in particular, Rich Tea.
Over the last 10 years or so, it has become a Mumsnet rite of passage to ask every politician to name their favourite biscuit. And ever since Gordon Brown had a near-panic attack over the biscuit question – he stumbled around, unable to name a single biscuit and found himself obliged to ring in the following day to say he quite liked anything with chocolate on it – every politician has been well-briefed by their special adviser with a suitable answer.
It has become a classic catch-22. Most politicians are now so fully aware that their answers will be picked apart and over-interpreted that they spend hours trying to second-guess the semiotics of their biscuit choice. What was originally intended as a light-hearted, throwaway question has become as loaded as a people’s vote on the final Brexit deal. How entitled and out of touch does a dark chocolate and stem-ginger cookie make you sound?
Though some politicians probably play it straight – Jeremy Corbyn’s answer (he couldn’t name a favourite, but was partial to shortbread, though he was generally anti-biscuit on health grounds because of their sugar content) felt so close to the mark as to be almost self-parody – it has become almost impossible to know if anyone is really telling the truth. Is it coincidence that Scots Nicola Sturgeon, Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond all chose Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers? Or that Lake District Lib Dem leader Tim Farron chose Kendal Mint Cake?
Look again at McDonnell’s answer and you will see he hasn’t answered the question. Like a true politician, he has declined to state a preference and merely answered the question he would like to have been asked. That he is a true man of the people.
• No biscuits were consumed while researching this Shortcut.