UK Politics

The politics of a kitchen photo-op: Can MPs avoid a roasting?

James Brokenshire with his ovens Image copyright James Brokenshire

A photograph of Housing Secretary James Brokenshire in his kitchen has caused quite a stir.

It seems he is being roasted for having not one, not two, but four ovens. (Or "two normal double ovens", he says).

The Tory MP told the Sunday Times that he and his wife Cathy had the appliances installed in their south-east London home because there was previously "not enough room" to cook for their family at Christmas.

He later tweeted a picture of himself standing by his ovens with a Victoria Sponge and said: "Amazing what you can rustle up! Maybe some more hot potatoes next! #twoovens."

It's not the first time a politician has been pictured in their kitchen - or the first time it's cooked up a storm.

Cookbook questions

The opportunity to portray a warm, family-friendly, down-to-earth image - "look, I cook my own dinner just like you!" - is understandably tempting.

But maybe by inviting photographers into their home, it's easier to be caught off-guard.

Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab was photographed by the Sunday Times last week in his kitchen with his wife Erika Rey, to accompany an article on his party leadership ambitions.

Cue eagle-eyed readers who spotted an open cookbook next to a plate of toast.

"Why do they need a cookbook to make toast?" was among the questions jokingly asked by readers.

Interestingly, a "word-cloud" poster was also clocked hanging up in the kitchen.

"BBQ", "Cooking", "Parliament" and "Blackberry and Google" were among the words that could be seen.

For Tory MP Grant Shapps, it was mugs specifically rather than his kitchen generally that got people talking.

He posted himself ploughing through the 585-page Brexit withdrawal agreement - with, bizarrely, 10 suspiciously clean-looking mugs, presumably designed to demonstrate his commitment to the task.

The tactic of being pictured at home in a kitchen was favoured by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who was photographed, with pan in hand, a number of times during her career.

Being the first woman in Downing Street, and beating lots of men to the job, raised - as biographer John Spectre puts it - "the alarming spectre of a feminist harridan - the worst sort of woman".

Her advisers, therefore, sought to show that despite her achievements, she was still in some ways a traditional wife, cooking her husband's breakfast on the morning of an election.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Margaret Thatcher in 1975, before becoming Tory leader, and again on the right in her Downing Street kitchen in 1987

Years later in 2015, in the relaxed atmosphere of his own kitchen, David Cameron famously dropped a political bombshell.

Sleeves rolled up and while chopping vegetables, he revealed to the BBC that he would not serve a third term as prime minister if the Conservatives remained in government after that year's general election.

He also tipped then-Home Secretary Theresa May, Chancellor George Osborne and London Mayor Boris Johnson as potential successors.

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Media captionDavid Cameron told James Landale he would not be running for a third term

But that wasn't the first glimpse of the Cameron family kitchen - or more accurately, one of the Camerons' kitchens.

In 2011, an image released by the White House showed Mr Cameron's wife, Samantha, and US First Lady, Michelle Obama, relaxing on a velvet sofa in the kitchen of the private flat above number 11.

They had had the kitchen refurbished to a fitted, handle-free design before they moved in in 2010.

Image copyright White House
Image caption The Camerons refitted the 11 Downing Street kitchen before they moved in in 2010

And who can forget the furore over former Labour leader Ed Miliband's two kitchens?

Critics branded him "Two Kitchens Ed" after he was filmed by the BBC with his wife Justine in an austere-looking kitchen.

It then emerged they had a second, bigger kitchen in their London home, leading to claims he used the first to portray a more humble family life.

Image caption Kitchen, or kitchenette?

This then led to Mr Miliband issuing a statement to insist that the smaller kitchen was the one they used.

Finally, not one to miss out on the apparent politicians in kitchens photographic boom of 2015, then-Labour MP Austin Mitchell tweeted that his kitchen, in fact, was "what a real Labour kitchen looked like".

So while politicians may find it hard to avoid a roasting, Mr Brokenshire's four ovens are unlikely to herald an end to the trusted culinary photo-op.