It’s meant to be Ed Miliband’s big day today – at Labour’s Special Conference he plays blushing bride to the union donors who sustain his party, and we’ll write up the outcome later on.
For some unknown reason, though, Labour have decided to upstage their own news. On the front page of the Financial Times, shadow communities minister Andy Sawford has launched an attack against an evil big business for wickedly, erm, giving people free coffee:
‘The Labour party has accused Waitrose of stealing trade from small high street shops by giving a million free coffees and newspapers to its customers every week.
In its latest salvo against big business, Labour said the myWaitrose loyalty scheme was having a “stark effect” on small coffee shops and newsagents across the UK.
Andy Sawford, shadow communities minister, has written to every MP with a local Waitrose asking them to press the chain to make changes to the scheme in the “spirit of fair competition”.’
That’s not exactly in keeping with Miliband’s campaign on the cost of living. One day prices are too high and require government intervention to reduce them, the next day prices are too low and require government intervention to increase them. Which is it?
Waitrose provides 1 million free cups of coffee to people each week, without any requirement to buy anything. Given the average cappuccino in the UK costs £2.20, a rough calculation suggests the Waitrose scheme reduces the cost of living by £114 million each year. It’s bizarre that the Labour Party want that to stop, and people’s living expenses to rise as a result.
All this is compounded by Miliband’s recent decision to extend his cost of living campaign to an appeal for support from the squeezed middle classes:
“Today, the British middle class is being squeezed by a cost-of-living crisis as never before – and people grafting to join it find that the obstacles in their way are getting bigger.”
That evidently hasn’t lasted very long.
Impressively, there’s a third Labour campaign this position clashes with. In June, Chuka Umunna was praising the co-operative model of business as the future of the UK economy, something which a Labour government would actively encourage. Now, it seems Waitrose – part of the co-operative, employee-owned John Lewis Group – is one of Ed’s “predators”, not the foundation of the future after all.
There’s an unfortunate footnote to this fiasco. Andy Sawford, the Corby MP leading the charge, is a Co-Operative Party MP. As such, he’s funded by the Co-Operative Group, one of Waitrose’s competitors. Will he be declaring his conflict of interest?