Labour's not lovin' it

Posted on April 19, 2016

Labour's National Executive Committee has rejected the offer of £30,000 from McDonald's in exchange for a stand at the party's annual conference in Liverpool. If this were a principled rejection of corporate influence, this might have made some sense. But cash-strapped Labour needs every penny it can get and there will undoubtedly be plenty more big firms ponying up serious cash in exchange for the opportunity to woo delegates. Rejecting Micky D's is really just confirmation of the snobbishness and nannying attitudes at the top of British politics today.

For the Islington types who now dominate Labour, McDonald's is the devil incarnate. Serving up tasty, cheap but high-quality food is anathema to the feta-and-salad set. Not only do they turn their noses up at mass-produced food, but they're arrogant enough to believe that they know what's best for the rest of us, too. That's why Labour councils like Waltham Forest in London have taken it upon themselves to refuse permission for local takeaways. If we don't want fast food, we don't have to buy it - that choice should be ours. We don't need that choice taken away from us. Heaven forbid that we might actually enjoy it.

Even some of the party's MPs are outraged. Wes Streeting, a former National Union of Students president and the epitome of the career politician, told the Guardian: 'I’m exasperated that we should throw away £30,000 worth of sponsorship like this. It smacks of a snobby attitude towards fast-food restaurants and people who work or eat at them. McDonald’s may not be the trendy falafel bar that some people in politics like to hang out at but it’s enjoyed by families across the country.' That's the same Wes Streeting who, as deputy leader of Redbridge Borough Council, was 'keen to explore options' around banning smoking in the borough's public parks. Clearly, he's not that keen on the things that working-class people enjoy. No doubt he's as much concerned with the red ink in Labour's accounts as he is with raising the red flag for the workers.

There are two important lessons from this episode. The first is for big companies: there is no satisfying puritan politicians. McDonald's has bent over backwards to appeal to the prejudices of the chattering classes, using only British and Irish beef, free-range eggs and organic milk. Indeed, so right-on has McDonald's become that it was awarded Sustainable Restaurant of the Year in 2015. That still won't stop it being bad-mouthed by Labour's Islington set. Other big firms should take note. Instead, we have had the bizarre news last week that Mars, makers of Dolmio and Uncle Ben's sauces, has decided to advise consumers that some of its products should only be eaten 'occasionally'. If Mars thinks such moves will win it any lasting peace from harassment by the food police, the firm should think again.

The other lesson is that, whatever the result of the EU referendum, the real battleground for consumer choice remains at home, not in Brussels. As Christopher Snowdon points out in his contribution to a new book on the EU by the Institute of Economic Affairs, Brussels has, by and large, promoted free markets and tempered some of the more extreme measures demanded by public health activists. The EU has meant price competition between countries, allowing consumers a way to avoid the worst of the UK's eye-watering sin taxes, and prevented the imposition of minimum pricing on alcohol. Admittedly, those ticks have been somewhat undermined by the big fat cross of the ludicrous rules imposed on vapers through Article 20 of the Tobacco Products Directive, along with the ban on flavoured cigarettes.

Nonetheless, all the worst attacks on our freedom to choose have come from Westminster, Holyrood and Cardiff Bay: smoking and vaping bans, plain packs, display bans and all the rest have nothing to do with the Eurocrats. Even the Conservatives, who have previously enjoyed a bit of nanny-state bashing rhetoric, have proven to be just as intolerant of our choices as Tony Blair's New Labour, while the SNP has made illiberalism as much its calling card as independence.

When the only national party pushing back against such measures is UKIP, we don't have much of a democracy here at home. Whatever happens on 23 June, we have a fight on our hands to defend our remaining freedoms - and with the mealy mouthed attitude of many firms to their own products is a guide, we consumers are on our own.

Picture: Kevin Brine / Shutterstock.com