The Tesco juggernaut hits a bump

On Radio Two’s  Jeremy Vine Show today, there was, according to the Eastern Daily Press online report, a “heated debate” about Tesco, whose plan to bring a store to the centre of Sheringham was being discussed this morning by North Norfolk planning committee. As part of that discussion – the only one opposing the Tesco juggernaut, as it happens – I can’t say it felt particularly heated. Some might say that not much light was thrown on the subject either.

The last time I had a radio debate on this subject, a former chairman of Tesco boasted of the company’s size and profitability: any criticism, he said, was motivated by a very  British resentment of success. Today James Panton, an Oxford academic who set up the libertarian Manifesto Club, deployed the ease-and-efficiency argument.

The case  for uncontrolled expansion of vast supermarkets takes free-market capitalism beyond Mrs Thatcher’s wildest dreams.  The social and economic side-effect s  –  the destruction of local shops, the effect on local suppliers, the change forever to local life  –   all count for nothing beside the market. We have, it seems,  learned nothing from the banking crisis; profit is what matters. Big business can be trusted.

When I suggested on the programme that a balance was needed between the  convenience shopping of a supermarket and a variety of local produce offered by other shops,  I was accused of middle-class snobbery. Perhaps. On the other hand, an academic preaching  lowest-common-denominator consumerism might just be thought to be a touch patronising.

With great good sense, North Norfolk Council rejected Tesco’s planning application and opted for the rival Greenhouse Community Project.

You can hear the programme here. Our discussion starts after 1:08:30.