Cameron and Clegg’s dilemma

The political calling for the left must be to fill the gap between the Big Society and the Big Econo

David Cameron delivered an interesting speech yesterday, and the credit for it lies squarely with Ed Miliband. The subject of the speech was "popular capitalism". It is not a phrase you will find in the coalition agreement. It was, apparently, not on the minds of Lib Dem negotiators as they shredded campaign policies and shared out ministerial positions. It has never been a feature of Osbornomics. Even orange-booker Nick Clegg took a brief break from failing to reform the constitution to become a crusader for fairer capitalism. A government that has spent its time in office trying to find an excuse to cut the 50p tax band for the super rich and allowing the fast food industry to shape public health policy was now trying to look the other way.

Cameron and Clegg have a dilemma. While oppositions can talk but not act, governments have the opposite problem. Words must be followed by action. People will be watching to see what the Deputy PM's "John Lewis economy" amounts to in practice. Whilst the cooperative sector currently amounts to only 1 per cent of the economy, what is their strategy to increase that? Likewise, people could be forgiven for wondering if David Cameron has the guts to "be tough" with the very same people who have funded him for so long.

Labour faces its own dilemma. It is notoriously difficult for oppositions to set the terms of debate, but on this -- as with phone hacking -- Ed Miliband has seized the initiative. Now the coalition is trying to buy up its political real estate, does it stick and shout louder or does it twist and push the agenda? The former will prove futile: few opposition parties can overwhelm the media might of Whitehall. Neither can the Labour Party bank on the support of a public sceptical of the coalition's desire for real change in British capitalism. The pro forma indignation about banker's bonuses will no longer cut through.

The only option is to move the debate on and call David Cameron's bluff. I've argued in my book that the Big Society is Labour's for the taking. After all, how can you preach about the fruits that come from empowering people in the public sector yet have no designs for empowerment in the private sector? If the prize is a society where people feel a greater responsibility to one another, how can we not have a message to the companies who seemingly show no sense of responsibility towards us? Yes, limit Stephen Hester's bonus, but it won't make much difference to the people that clean his office.

The political calling for the left in the age of austerity must be to fill the gap between the Big Society and the Big Economy. We can change the relationship between the boardroom and the stockroom forever without spending a penny of taxpayers' money. Firms should share power and profits with the people who work for them. We should point to Germany where employees have a seat at the table in company boardrooms (including remuneration committees), and to France where employees share in the profits of large firms. We need to be more forthright about Big Internet that hordes and sells access to our personal data, Big Food that sells us repackaged cholesterol and Big Booze that retails cheaper than bottled water. Ed Miliband's comments this morning about "rip-off Britain" are a welcome start to a distinctive narrative that will shape Labour's message from now until 2015.

David Lammy is the Labour MP for Tottenham and author of "Out of the Ashes: Britain after the riots"

David Lammy is Labour MP for Tottenham

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.