Who to Trust on the Milk Issue? Derry Irvine or Eddie George?
Riddell, Mary, New Statesman (1996)
What really foxes a master of the economy? It's the milk bill, stupid. Asked in a recent interview if he knew the price of a pint, Eddie George - governor of the Bank of England - replied that he certainly did, because he occasionally settles the account.
It came to [pounds]31 a fortnight. That made it, er, just over a pound a bottle by the governor's reckoning. "Expensive milk," murmured his press officer, discomfited that he who sets the nation's interest rates had roughly trebled the cost.
Economic nous does not, of course, imply a grasp of personal finance. Or vice versa. Alec Douglas-Home, though possibly conversant with the going rate for Marmite, used to work out the economy by shuffling piles of matchsticks.
No, the governor's sin was to offer up a glaring example of the ultimate lapse: looking out of touch at a time when every public figure is desperate to demonstrate how in tune he or she is with populist thinking. The Queen, informed by MORI that she is several semitones flat, casts around for a Peter Mandelson clone to make her a people's monarch.
John Prescott swaps his Jag for a greener gas-guzzler, puts a brick in his toilet cistern to save water and cleans his teeth using a glass rather than a running tap. The gesture says: "You eco-warriors of the home counties, with your compost heaps and recycling bins - I am one of you."
Who among the powerful now dares look estranged? Following the recent departure of Mr Justice Harman (whose courtroom flaws were overshadowed by amnesia on Oasis), those judges who once could not pick the Beatles out of an identity parade are no doubt boning up on techno-house.
But the most potent in-touch symbols hinge on money. Failure to demonstrate solidarity with the cash-strapped masses echoes the arrogance demonstrated by the Lord Chancellor: so out of kilter as to imagine that an electorate that voted for fairness and restraint could endorse his refurbishment programme.
Voters are not unreasonable. They would have understood Irvine's wish to improve on peat divots and a haggis steamer - or whatever creature comforts his apartment's previous incumbent, Mackay of Clashfern, deemed indispensable to an austere Wee Free lifestyle. …