Thursday, 12 September 2013

The legacy of the ‘pasty tax’ debacle

Last Saturday I attended the second Pasty and Mining Festival held in Redruth. The idea was conceived last year by the Town Mayor Judy Davidson, the Town Council and Marion Symonds of Portreath Bakery who has done a lot of work developing international links between Cornwall and Mexico which hosts its own pasty festival.

When we think of the mass Cornish migrations of the late nineteenth century, we tend to think of the moves to Australia, South Africa or the US but Cornish miners fanned out across the world taking their mining and engineering expertise to new countries. Wherever the Cornish miners from Redruth went, they took the Cornish pasty with them. I always remember Lynton Crosby, the Australian campaign strategist now advising David Cameron, telling me of the Cornish festivals they used to have in the town where he grew up and of the pasties that Mrs Pengelly (there’s a clue there) used to make which, from memory, were described as savoury at one end and sweet at the other.

Cornish miners also settled at Real Del Monte in Mexico. Earlier this year I met some of the local representatives from the town when they visited the Heartlands project in Pool and there were other Mexican pasty makers in attendance last Saturday. Cornish miners were responsible for developing silver mining in Real Del Monte during the nineteenth century. They also introduced football and other sports to Mexico. Hundreds of Cornish miners ended their lives in the area and many are to be found in one of the local cemeteries, apparently facing home to Cornwall which was a common request at the time.

Today the Cornish heritage is evident in some of their architecture and in their love of pasties (or pastes). Last Saturday, like many others, I tried a Mexican pasty for a change. It is made with potato, beef, leeks, parsley and chillies which gives it an edge but they were delicious. Also, like many others, I tried my hand at making a pasty of my own. Apparently my attempt was not bad for a beginner despite losing the corner momentarily during the crimping operation!

A little over a year ago, I and Cornwall’s other MPs were in the middle of a battle to reverse the government’s decision to put VAT on freshly baked pasties. The traditional exemption from VAT was what civil servants described as an “anomaly”. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and George Osborne intervened to reverse the measure and ensure that the Cornish Pasty continued to be given the special treatment it deserves. It was partly the pasty tax debacle that led to the idea of a pasty festival in Redruth. Last Saturday was really well attended with a buzz about the town. Perhaps it will become one positive and enduring legacy from the pasty tax row.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.