UK Politics

Shopping fascists in the High Street

I don’t understand why people like the High Street – especially in a country like the UK where the weather is bloody awful for most of the year and there is nowhere to park.

By contrast, shopping complexes offer a wider range, at better prices, in a climate-controlled (read ‘comfortable’) atmosphere, where there is usually easy access by public transport or ample space to park (and usually free!).

Why would anyone elect to trudge through mud and sleet wearing fourteen layers of clothing to shop at establishments who – if they actually had what you needed in stock – would charge you more for it than say Tesco or B&Q?

The idea that the average High Street proprietor is more knowledgeable about his product or more concerned with satisfying his customers is, frankly, balderdash! Customer service is universally bad, and the only place to get decent advice on product is on the Internet – specifically from other consumers.

So, why am I ranting about this issue today. Well, we recently got one of those Freeview boxes with twin-tuners and a huge hard-drive recorder – basically a TiVo-style gadget. It allows me to flag programmes of interest and view them at my convenience. (Incidentally, I got very good and knowledgeable service at a large chain of retailers, but that’s not the point…).

Anyhow, I recorded some documentary (from BBC 2, I think) about ‘local activists’ who want to ‘save the High Street’ in their town and stop a Tesco opening up nearby.

They claim to have the majority of the town on their side ( a spurious claim, I’m sure). But let’s take them at their word. The question I have is this: If the vast majority of ‘the community’ really is so committed to preserving the High Street, what harm is there in a Tesco opening? Surely the fact that the ‘vast majority’ of ‘the community’ would take the principled position to continue buying from their beloved High Street would mean they could deal Tesco a bloodier nose as the tumbleweed blew down the isles of their new superstore?

But I suspect the truth is that they fear that the majority of people do actually want the convenience and economy of a supermarket. So what these self-styled ‘community activists’ are saying is that townsfolk must be forced to shop in the High Street for its preservation and, apparently, their own good. This is a mini fascism.

Bottom line: If you’re convinced that the majority of people really do want to preserve the High Street and reject a supermarket chain opening up, you have nothing to fear if the supermarket opens for trading. People will vote with their feet and their wallets.

But the fact of the matter is that we all know that won’t happen. There is often a huge difference in what people say they want and what they really want. We no longer live in a world where ‘mummy’ stays at home and goes shopping with her wicker basket every morning at ten. Even if we were prepared to brave the weather, the exorbitant parking fees and the higher prices for fewer choices, what is the point of a High Street shop that closes just as most of us are leaving work?

There is no point.

“The High Street” sounds like a nice idea torn from the pages of Famous Five (or perhaps a Comic Strip presents… version of it), but the 1930s is gone. But, regrettably, what remains of it is the idea that coercion can be enlisted to engineer a particular vision of society (which may or may not last 1000 years). It is immoral to force people to support one’s own vision of society by removing or blocking any alternatives.

So, to the busy-body ‘local activists’ I put this simple proposition: If people don’t want something you don’t need to protect them from those who would offer it – the offer will be refused.

But I suspect they know that and what they really fear is that people do want it.

As a footnote, I noticed that the ‘activists’ who travel around the country ‘opposing’ supermarket planning applications in ‘support’ of ‘High Street traders’ do so in the comfort of the first-class carriage. No wonder they don’t mind paying 50p more for a loaf of bread than those who take the bus.

David T adds

Brett suggests that local shops should take a leaf out of the mall owners’ book, and start marketing themselves as “just like a mini mall”.

Here’s one way of doing it: