Degeneration by Tescofication
Speech to Liberal Democrat conference, Harrogate, 4 March 2007
Hold on! What’s that strange sucking noise? Behind the sound of Tesco explaining how they’ll create jobs in Harrogate…?
I’ll tell you. It’s the hoovering up of local spending power disappearing down the wires to the headquarters of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Wal-mart, when it used to re-circulate locally and keep places alive.
It’s the sound of disappearing local businesses, and jobs transformed into lower paid check-out staff.
It is, in short, the sound of government regeneration policy. It is a recipe for dependence, economic and political.
And we’ve been complicit in it too, because we’ve struggled with one aspect of decentralisation and not others.
We’ve welcomed anchor stores – and rightly – but failed to stop some of them using below-cost selling to shut down their neighbours.
We’ve urged the devolution of power to local councils, but forgotten that they’ve only got one multinational refuse collector left to contract to.
We’ve insisted on decentralising government power but not corporate power.
This motion begins to redress the balance.
And it nails the big lie of Labour regeneration. That we just need to find out what Tesco wants, and build a giant shopping centre exactly the same as everywhere else.
When a town of thirty thousand people, like Bicester in Oxfordshire, gets seven Tescos – what does that mean?
It means decisions about what we can buy are taken in distant boardrooms.
It means we’re supplicants to centralised power, just as surely as we’re supplicants to Whitehall power.
It also means one retailer now determines a third of all our grocery spending? And that two thousand small shops now go bust a year, and every one means more driving, more crime and less community.
Ask yourself. Does Asda keep an eye out for people acting strangely in the street? Does Tesco let local elderly people drop in for a chat?
This isn’t just a Labour lie. I know one Tory council that’s banned locally owned shops from its new clone town shopping centre because they’re untidy.
But it’s a distinctively Labour policy. They prefer business to be dominated by a handful of giant multinationals. Because it’s tidier.
They prefer our choices to be narrow. Any hospital you like as long as it’s massive and you never see the same doctor twice. Any grocer you like, as long as it’s a centralised, subsidised, feather-bedded semi-monopoly.
But have consumers chosen this growing dependence?
Of course, we need supermarkets. But the truth is the Big Four are now so big that they can force suppliers to sign away their right to be paid in 30 days.
That means they fund their expansion, and their predatory prices, with a three-month interest free loan equal to their entire stock, paid by farmers here and abroad.
And who can compete with that?
That’s not regeneration, that’s degeneration.
So please pass this motion. We need this policy urgently or we’ll be left with nothing to say on the subject, just as this issue explodes. Don’t for goodness sake delay by referring it back. Tesco is trying to take over Harrogate now – we can’t wait another year.
But above all else, Liberalism is the antidote to slavery.
We’re not yet slaves to a handful of grocers. But the farmers are – and it may not be long before we join them.