Sometimes it feels like a lonely job taking on the might of consumer capitalism. But then Ed Miliband the Labour leader comes along and expresses his disquiet at the ‘Tesco-isation’ of the land. Speaking to the BBC this weekend he said “I think local people should have more of a say over what happens to their high streets”. He went on “I think it is a problem that people think the character of their high street is being changed and they have no power against big corporations in this country”.
Ed’s welcome comments follow on from the kerfuffle in Bristol over the opening of the store in Stokes Croft that many local resident don’t want. More trouble broke out there at the weekend. This is terrible PR for Tesco – the perception that they are forcing themselves on local communities. Terrible because in may respects they are.
The answer for Ed lies in planning law. But the law is just one aspect of an economic shift that needs to be made. Tesco is powerful because it has the money to hire the best lobbyists and lawyers. They have the most money to pay for sites when councils are feeling the squeeze, which means they tend to get what they want. In a world where money counts they pull out all the stops. When they get a site their enormous buying power then means other local shops are soon squeezed out. Nothing grows in their shadow.
Joanna Blythman in the Guardian today shows how Tesco really operates as it withdraws a money back scheme because shoppers were getting too much money back. they pretned to be the consumers friend – but only when it suits them.
New Labour lived by the rule that ‘economic efficiency and social just go hand in hand’. What was good good for the market was deemed to be good for society. Since the crash that over simplification of the world no longer carries any weight. In the process of adopting a market first strategy Labour switched from being a party based on producers to one based on consumers. There is no going back to how things were in the 1950s, there is no blue Labour to be dug up. But Labour can become the party of the citizen, not the producer or the consumer. The party of people with powerful individual and collective voices that can say no to the march of the market. Ed now needs to ensure that this isn’t just a line in a pre-election speech but becomes a theme and then a meaningful policy. Its not just in terms of their income that middle are being squeezed but in their sense of identity and power to control at least some of their world.
PS article of the week goes to Lucy Siegle writing in the Observer about the abuse of workers making our must have gadgets. It’s a great piece. Have a read but not on an iPad.