Debenhams' flat results are a reflection of the times

Debenhams posts total sales increase of 1 per cent with flat LFL sales.

If anything, the flat results from Debenhams underline the choppy nature of the current trading environment which continues to be buffeted around by the vagaries of the British weather. Against this backdrop it has been challenging for many retailers, and especially those exposed to fashion, to generate consistent uplifts in trade.

There is an argument, however, that the traditional tactic of discounting to sell through "unseasonal" stock is a less potent weapon for Debenhams during this time than it is for other players, if only because Debenhams’ promotional activity is so ubiquitous throughout the year.

That noted, Debenhams overall sales were nudged into positive territory largely thanks to the strength of its spring and summer collections. These were allied with a strong marketing campaign showcasing its various designers and  a variety of ‘hero’ products, such as an ombre snake print maxi dress from Butterfly by Matthew Williamson.

Product innovation across its range of exclusive brands is one of Debenhams’ key strengths and has undoubtedly helped it to grab market share across a number of categories. Looking ahead, we are encouraged by the pipeline for new range development which includes the signing of tailor Patrick Grant who will launch a new menswear range, Hammond & Co, in AW13.

Another area of strength for Debenhams is its multichannel proposition. Across the period online sales grew by 40 per cent with mobile visits growing exponentially. Investment in the service, which will enable premium next day delivery by September, will enable further growth and comes just in time for the crucial Christmas trading period.

We remain positive about international expansion, especially on the franchise front where store opening remains strong into 2014. This, allied with Debenhams’ multichannel proposition, provides a very opportunity for future growth.

Photograph: Getty Images

 Managing Director of Conlumino

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How Labour risks becoming a party without a country

Without establishing the role of Labour in modern Britain, the party is unlikely ever to govern again.

“In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn

All I want for you to do is take my body home”

- Blind Willie Johnson

The Conservative Party is preparing itself for a bloody civil war. Conservative MPs will tell anyone who wants to know (Labour MPs and journalists included) that there are 100 Conservative MPs sitting on letters calling for a leadership contest. When? Whenever they want to. This impending war has many reasons: ancient feuds, bad blood, personal spite and enmity, thwarted ambition, and of course, the European Union.

Fundamentally, at the heart of the Tory war over the European Union is the vexed question of ‘What is Britain’s place in the World?’ That this question remains unanswered a quarter of a century after it first decimated the Conservative Party is not a sign that the Party is incapable of answering the question, but that it has no settled view on what the correct answer should be.

The war persists because the truth is that there is no compromise solution. The two competing answers are binary opposites: internationalist or insular nationalist, co-habitation is an impossibility.

The Tories, in any event, are prepared to keep on asking this question, seemingly to the point of destruction. For the most part, Labour has answered this question: Britain will succeed as an outward looking, internationalist state. The equally important question facing the Labour Party is ‘What is the place of the Labour Party in modern Britain?’ Without answering this question, Labour is unlikely to govern ever again and in contrast to the Tories, Labour has so far refused to acknowledge that such a question is being asked of it by the people it was founded to serve. At its heart, this is a question about England and the rapidly changing nature of the United Kingdom.

In the wake of the 2016 elections, the approach that Labour needs to take with regard to the ‘English question’ is more important than ever before. With Scotland out of reach for at least a generation (assuming it remains within the United Kingdom) and with Labour’s share of the vote falling back in Wales in the face of strong challenges from Plaid Cymru and UKIP, Labour will need to rely upon winning vast swathes of England if we are to form a government in 2020.

In a new book published this week, Labour’s Identity Crisis, Tristram Hunt has brought together Labour MPs, activists and parliamentary candidates from the 2015 general election to explore the challenges facing Labour in England and how the party should address these, not purely as an electoral device, but as a matter of principle.

My contribution to the book was inspired by Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. The track list reads like the score for a musical tragedy based upon the Labour Party from 2010 onwards: In My Time of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Ten Years Gone. 

Continued Labour introspection is increasingly tiresome for the political commentariat – even boring – and Labour’s Identity Crisis is a genuinely exciting attempt to swinge through this inertia. As well as exploring our most recent failure, the book attempts to chart the course towards the next Labour victory: political cartography at its most urgent.

This collection of essays represents an overdue effort to answer the question that the Party has sought to sidestep for too long.  In the run up to 2020, as the United Kingdom continues to atomise, the Labour Party must have an ambitious, compelling vision for England, or else risks becoming a party without a country.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.