F**k the Cupcake Revolution! David Cameron, Samuel Smiles, and the Geographies of Neo-Victorian Thrift

Research output: Contribution to Specialist PublicationArticle


The homemade poster was clearly visible in the window of a first floor flat as I sat on the top deck of the 185 bus that was jerking its way up Camberwell New Road in South London. It read ‘F**k the Cupcake Revolution. Don’t stay calm. Get angry!’ Retro renditions of the wartime tagline ‘keep calm and carry on’ are in plentiful supply under the current UK austerity. Mugs incite us to ‘keep calm and have a brew’; toilet lids to ‘keep calm and take a seat’; cushions to ‘keep calm and take a nap’. They draw upon a cultural memory of wartime government campaigns, such as ‘digging for victory’ or ‘make-do-and-mend’,[1] that aimed to drive down the consumptive needs of the population in order that rationing might be workable. They are part of a resurgence in the popularity of nostalgic ideas of home-making and simplicity that has seen an increase in both sales of retro kitchen appliances (typically the kitchen-aid food mixer), and the popularity of ‘crafting’ and ‘home-baking’ (typically in the form of the cupcake).

However, this harking back to the thrifty, head-scarfed, rosy-cheeked heroine of the home front is no coincidence. As many argue, austerity in the UK today necessarily invites echoes of that earlier post-war austerity (see Bramall 2013; Clarke and Newman 2012; Ginn 2012; Hinton and Redclift 2009). There is a wilful play upon collective memory – a politically and ideologically charged intent to connect the two eras, as recently expounded upon by Owen Hatherley (2015), and as evidenced by British PM David Cameron’s initial use of the phrase ‘age of austerity’,[2] and Chancellor George Osborne’s now famous ‘we are all in this together’ speech in 2009.[3] The connection between the two eras can even be plausibly read into the use of ‘Broken Britain’ as a catch-all description of family breakdown, worklessness, antisocial behaviour, out-of-wedlock childbirth, and welfare dependency – a trend that Tom Slater dissects in a 2012 Antipode article. The suggestion being that in the past ‘simpler’ era of wartime austerity none of these issues existed in the fiercely problematic way they do today, and if we could just bake enough cupcakes we might somehow manage to return to the spirit of those times.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationAntipode Online
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2016


Dive into the research topics of 'F**k the Cupcake Revolution! David Cameron, Samuel Smiles, and the Geographies of Neo-Victorian Thrift'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this