Portrait of the week: BBC drops songs, museum drops Sloane, and KFC and John Lewis drop slogans

Home Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, made pupils wear face-coverings in school corridors. It didn’t take long for the UK government to follow suit in England, for secondary pupils in areas of high transmission. The chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales said that the fatality rate for those aged five to 14 infected with coronavirus was 14 per million, lower than for most seasonal flu infections. Sally Collier resigned as chief regulator of Ofqual, which had been caught up in the chaotic assessment of A-level and GCSE candidates. It was ‘vitally important’ for children to go back to school, said Boris Johnson, the Prime

Why the wheel of fortune is turning in Tesco’s favour again

How surprising to read one former Tesco chief, 82-year-old Lord MacLaurin, badmouthing another, Sir Terry Leahy. The surprise is because both were titans of their trade and Leahy has always been seen as Ian MacLaurin’s protégé: it was MacLaurin who took Tesco to the top of the UK supermarket league in the mid-1990s, then Leahy who quadrupled its sales, profits and share price between 1997 and 2011 to make it the monster we know. But Leahy also took Tesco into a disastrous US grocery venture and — according to MacLaurin, talking to the Sunday Times — started ‘the rot’ that brought the company low by 2014, leaving the blame to

Ross Clark


Is there any invention as ancient and as fundamental as soap? Traced to Babylonian civilisation around 2,800 bc (handy for scrubbing down after all that gardening), it almost certainly goes back millennia further than that. It is mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah and by 1550 bc the Egyptians were marketing it as a medicinal aid for sores and other skin ailments. There was a soap factory buried in Pompeii — although the product is believed to have been used more for washing clothes because visitors to Roman bath houses preferred to scrub themselves with olive oil. By 1192 soap had become one of Britain’s earliest mass-manufactured goods — though

A taste of Brexit

Supermarkets have always moved with the times. After the recession we wanted affordable luxury, so we got M&S’s ‘Dine in for two’ and its various imitators. These promised us a restaurant-quality meal and a nice bottle of sauvignon blanc for a tenner. Well, now the times they are a-Brexit, and retail giants are adapting accordingly. Last week Tesco opened Jack’s. Partly it’s a response to the explosive growth of German rivals Aldi and Lidl. Partly it’s an attempt to create a new, patriotic shopping experience for a nation trying to go its own way. Tesco bosses swear Jack’s is ‘nothing to do with Brexit’. But the clue’s in the name.

The Tesco equal pay claim sets a dangerous precedent

I have decided that my work is of equal value to that of Claudia Schiffer and that therefore in future I should be paid the same as her. Why not? Okay, we don’t quite do the same thing, but we both get up in the morning, go out and do what we do as best we can. Yet she is paid more than I am, which is indefensible. That is pretty much the basis of the claim by 100 female Tesco shop floor workers who have launched an action against the supermarket claiming that they should be paid the same as men who work in the store’s warehouses. It is

The great plastic panic

Has an albatross ever wielded so much influence? The bewildered chick who regurgitated a plastic bag in front of Sir David Attenborough’s camera crew — fed to him by his mother after she had scooped it from the sea — has caused one of those regular ructions in public opinion. The supermarket chain Iceland has announced it would phase out all plastic packaging from its own-brand foods. The compulsory 5p charge on supermarket plastic bags is to be extended to all shops in England and a 25p ‘latte levy’ may be put on coffee cups containing plastic. Plastic ‘microbeads’ have been banned from cosmetic products. Such initiatives are largely a

Can we trust supermarket brands?

When you pick up a packet of meat from the supermarket and it says ‘Willow Farms’, what is the image you conjure up in your mind? Do you imagine the chickens reared on this farm happily pecking around a thatched cottage, searching for grubs in a field that rolls gently down to a river flanked by weeping willows? Of course you don’t. You’re shopping in Tesco and you’re not that stupid. The country’s biggest retailer (and the UK’s biggest private sector employer) is not buying any of its fresh produce from small-scale farmers, especially not its chickens. Some of you, however, might reasonably expect that Willow Farm exists. That it

Diary – 8 June 2017

Hundreds of terrorists and suspected terrorists have gone through the British educational system. Yet amid all the pre-election talk about extremism, I have not heard a single mention of the role that schools could play in countering future radicalisation. Do teachers, for example, ever look at online Islamist propaganda together with their Muslim pupils and analyse its distortions? When teaching history or politics, do they actively encourage an appreciation of British institutions and values? I doubt it. Most teachers in the state system are, on all available evidence, left-leaning and so are likely to teach from a largely anti-western perspective. Primary schools are just as important as secondaries. But in

Tesco and the great green scam

Only two months ago, Tesco agreed to pay a £129 million fine for false accounting, when it overstated profits in its August 2014 trading statement. ‘What happened is a huge source of regret to us all at Tesco,’ chief executive Dave Lewis said, ‘but we are a different business now.’ Not so fast. On Monday, the supermarket giant announced that its UK stores and distribution centres would be switching to 100 per cent renewable electricity this year. Tesco backs up its claim by saying that its UK electricity consumption will be supported by renewable energy certificates. As part of the EU’s promotion of renewable electricity, all member states are required

Does the truth about Trump’s art of the deal really matter?

How good a businessman is Donald Trump? Maybe the answer doesn’t matter, since barring death or impeachment he’ll be the most powerful man in the world until January 2021, or even 2025, come what may. Or maybe it does matter, in the sense that the only positive spin to be put on his otherwise ridiculous presidency is that the irrepressible cunning of the real-estate tycoon will eventually win through for the good of America — and thereby, we must hope, the good of the free world — against opponents who have smaller cojones and less dealmaking prowess than the Donald does. ‘He’s the closer,’ declared White House spokesman Sean Spicer,

Tesco pays the price for its accounting scandal

Tesco dominates the financial news this morning after the retail giant reached a settlement agreement for shareholders following an accounting scandal two and a half years ago. In addition to a fine of £129 million, Tesco will pay out about £85 million (plus interest) to investors in compensation. The money relates to an admission in 2014 that Tesco had been booking income from suppliers early. Put simply, the supermarket had brought forward payments from commercial suppliers for special deals such as promotions. Although the black hole was initially thought to be £263 million, it later transpired that the total was £326 million. Today’s deal – also known as a Deferred Prosecution Agreement

White men grab the chairs

Tesco chairman John Allan provoked feminist fury by telling would-be non-exec directors, ‘If you’re a white male, tough: you’re an endangered species’ — then claimed he was really trying to make the opposite point, that ‘it’s a great time for women’. But to the contrary, this was a week in which tough white males grabbed the corporate prizes, while one high-flying woman from an oppressed minority was hounded out of her job. First, the blokes. HSBC announced, for the first time in its history and to the satisfaction of governance zealots, the appointment of an outside chairman. Incumbent Douglas Flint is to be succeeded by Mark Tucker, a former professional

Spot the endangered species: white men grab the chairs while Hogg loses her job

Tesco chairman John Allan provoked feminist fury by telling would-be non-exec directors, ‘If you’re a white male, tough: you’re an endangered species’ — then claimed he was really trying to make the opposite point, that ‘it’s a great time for women’. But to the contrary, this was a week in which tough white males grabbed the corporate prizes, while one high-flying woman from an oppressed minority was hounded out of her job. First, the blokes. HSBC announced, for the first time in its history and to the satisfaction of governance zealots, the appointment of an outside chairman. Incumbent Douglas Flint is to be succeeded by Mark Tucker, a former professional

Will Trump halt the hounding of UK and European banks? Don’t bet on it

President Donald Trump is demolishing his predecessor’s legacy as fast as he can sign executive orders, but one thing for which the Obama administration will be remembered is its zest for imposing fines on UK and European banks. In a flurry of Department of Justice activity ahead of the transfer of power, Deutsche Bank agreed to pay $7.2 billion and Credit Suisse $5.3 billion for misleading investors in mortgage-backed securities before 2008, while Deutsche also copped a $630 million penalty (from UK as well as US regulators) for alleged money-laundering on behalf of Russian clients. Meanwhile, Royal Bank of Scotland set aside another $3.8 billion, making a total provision of

It’s time for Tesco Bank and its rivals to up their IT game

Cast your mind back to Saturday, 5 November. It is 8.30 am in Edinburgh and Tesco Bank boss Benny Higgins is sitting down to breakfast. The taxi he orders every weekend has picked up the papers from the local newsagent so he can flick through them over salmon and scrambled egg. Higgins likes his taxis. He spent £18,000 swanning around London in them between March and October 2015. He also likes his reading. He’s a voracious absorber of anything from Robert Graves and F. Scott Fitzgerald to Raymond Carver. Hence the pile of papers. Children flick in and out of the breakfast room – he has six of them. Life could

Thank goodness ‘Marmitegate’ is over

Back in the halcyon days of EU membership, a case for ‘Remain’ was presented upon these very pages. It explored the potentially disastrous consequences of Brexit on our meals. We toyed with the threat of turning our backs on claret, kissing confit de canard goodbye, and bidding farewell to champagne after 23 June. But in my shortsightedness, and in my greed, I failed to predict that Brexit would mark the funeral march of Marmite. Which it nearly did. Despite a day of utter hysteria, unalloyed panic and bulk buying, #Marmitegate is over. Thank God. To be fair to Brexit, and all who voted for it, no one could have predicted

Tesco finally meets its match

Only in the bizarre, upside-down, post-Brexit referendum world could Tesco try to portray itself as a victim of bullying by one of its suppliers. Isn’t Tesco supposed to be the nasty corporation which ruthlessly uses its might to squash the people who produce the goods which line its shelves? What about all those farmers, dairies and small-time cookie-makers apparently given a tough time by hard-nosed buyers at Tesco, who always want everything cheaper and for payment terms to be stretched out ever longer? I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for Tesco – I’m certainly not sobbing over my Marmite sandwiches – but the reality is that yes, the supermarket

The Spectator’s Notes | 21 January 2016

Many have rightly attacked the police for their handling of the demented accusations against Field Marshal Lord Bramall, now at last dropped. They ostentatiously descended on his village in huge numbers, chatted about the case in the pub and pointlessly searched his house for ten hours. But one needs to understand that their pursuit of Lord Bramall — though not their exact methods — is the result of the system. Because the doctrine has now been established that all ‘victims’ must be ‘believed’, the police must take seriously every sex abuse accusation made and record the accusation as a reported crime (hence the huge increase in sex abuse figures). Even if you

Forget ‘peak home furnishings’. We may have reached ‘peak Ikea’

Retail empires, like the political and military kind, are tragedies. They grow from modest beginnings, pushing all others aside until they reach their apogee when all competitors seem to have been vanquished. Then they collapse from within.  The only difference is that instead of leaving us magnificent cathedrals and palaces they leave us enormous tin sheds. For the past 20 years Ikea has carried all before it. Positioning itself as a mass-market Habitat, at MFI prices, it has all but extinguished the market for traditional furnishings and antiques, which now are sold for peanuts by increasingly desperate auctioneers. In 2005, 4000 people turned up when the Swedish chain opened its new

Pringles versus Tesco versus Islam. Whose side are you on?

Tesco is in trouble for religious insensitivity. A store in east London had a special Ramadan promotion. Prominently positioned within its offers were Smokey Bacon Flavour Pringles © – and of course, hackles have consequently been raised. It matters not a jot that the re-constituted and hydrogenised potato snack contain no pork products whatsoever – the Smokey Bacon Flavour © is a consequence of some chemical by-product of depleted uranium or deep freezing the underwear of various local tramps, whatever. It’s enough to arouse fury, even if Muslims are prohibited only from eating pig itself, not stuff that might pass itself off as pig. Good. You kowtow to this religion with