Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

7 July 2008

BOGOF, Gordon Brown!

Gordon Brown has been dispensing some of his home-spun Scottish wisdom again! Apparently, according to the BBC website news report, he thinks we Britons should “stop wasting food in an effort to help combat rising living costs” and that “‘unnecessary’ purchases were contributing to price hikes, and . . . people [should] plan meals in advance and store food properly”. On BBC Radio Four this morning, they also mentioned that GB thinks supermarkets should stop running ‘buy three for the price of two’-type offers, encouraging consumers to buy more food than they need, which they end up throwing away.

OK, I know where he’s coming from. There is a serious point that people do tend to over-provision and throw away an obscene amount of food; and this does have serious consequences for the environment and global food prices, as demand from western economies is higher than it needs to be. GB’s intervention comes on the same day as a Cabinet Office report on the issue is being published; and this will look into the complex issues in some depth.

However, it’s a bit rich coming from the PM to lecture English consumers on their buying and eating habits. Thanks to his exhortations, the supermarkets will offer fewer multi-saver deals to cash-strapped families that need them! It’s one thing to buy food you don’t need; but it’s altogether another thing to take advantage of temporary price reductions and stock up with things that you know you will use. This is how many people on what used to be called the bread line get by. Of course, the New Labour government, being so remote from the concerns of working people it used to represent, has become insensitive to these realities. Oh well, I’m sure the much-vaunted mechanisms of the market will find a way round this obstacle; and if they can’t offer buy-one-get-one-free (BOGOF) deals, the supermarkets will find other ways to reduce the prices on essentials to keep the punters coming through the door.

But what I’d like to say to GB is – on the same principle as doing away with BOGOF promotions – can we do away with a system whereby English political consumers voters have no choice other than to buy one government and get another vote-free! We have one election in which we vote for both the UK government and a government for England; whereas punters in Scotland and Wales can vote once for their own devolved governments, and a second time for a British (oh yes, and an English) government. Come to think of it, that means Scottish and Welsh voters get three for the price of two; whereas, really, we in England pay double for just one!

The consequence is, we get a Scottish-elected PM whose jurisdiction on food matters is limited to England: a country he’s not elected to serve. Which entitles him, in his own eyes, to lecture us on food economy. So my response to GB is: BOGOF, Mr Brown!

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