This is rubbish

An event in central London highlights the global problem of food waste

The New Statesman got a free lunch today in London, and we weren't the only ones.

Feeding the 5,000 was an event in Trafalgar Square that aimed to draw attention to the levels of food waste, both in the UK and elsewhere, by giving anyone who turned up a free lunch, a smoothie and as many groceries as they could fit in a bag.

I spoke to the organiser, Tristram Stuart, who wanted to draw public attention to this global problem. "There is enough food here to feed more than 5,000 people," he said, "and all of it would have been wasted had it not come here."

The main reason for this epic wastage is that all of the ingredients -- the apples in the smoothie, the beans in my curry and the bunch of grapes I took home -- are "outgraded", or cosmetically imperfect. In the UK, being "cosmetically imperfect" means that such food won't be sold by the supermarkets, and can be left to rot in the fields. Even if it makes it on to the next link in the food supply chain, it can still go to waste: in the UK, we waste as much as 25 per cent of all the food we buy, or the equivalent of £500 worth of food a year for every British family.

As a result, Stuart and the organisations he worked with, including This is Rubbish and FareShare, are calling on the government to set mandatory targets for reducing the waste. They also demand that supermarkets report the levels of food wasted "at each stage of the supply chain".

The effects of this problem do not stop with the UK, or with the developed world. Matthew Wingate of Save the Children sees a "direct link between the levels of waste in the UK and the life-saving work Save the Children does in some of the poorest parts of the world".

Having recently returned from north-eastern Kenya, where one in every three children is acutely malnourished, Wingate told me that waste impacts "on global climate issues, development aid targets and even individual giving". I asked him how it feels to see this small portion of the food Britain wastes. "To be honest, it feels disgusting," he said. "To return from feeding centres and see skiploads of perfectly edible 'waste' food really does appal me."

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.