January 13th 2010
I would like to hear from any small shopkeeper with a retail business in Margate, in Herne Bay, or in any of the surrounding villages, who would like to open their premises for business for more than six hours, or at all, on Boxing Day of this year.
It might seem a little premature to be discussing, in mid-January and while most of us are still recovering physically and financially from the excesses of Christmas 2009 plans for the coming winter but already the campaign has begun to change the law to permit longer shopping hours next Christmas.
The "problem", you see, is that next Christmas Day falls on a Saturday, which means that Boxing Day falls on the Sunday and that, therefore, the day that now marks the beginning of the post-Christmas sales (for those shops that have not commenced their "bargain" offers in the week before Christmas) is restricted by Sunday Trading laws to "only" six hours of opening..
There was a time, of course, when the "January Sales" began on the day after New Year's Day, rather quaintly, in January! In that far-off time Christmas was a Christian or Pagan festival or, at the very least, a holiday. Now, it seems that the Nation cannot be denied retail therapy for more than 24 hours without suffering from withdrawal symptoms and economic collapse.
"We were turning away customers when we closed on Boxing Day" scream the occupants of the big shopping malls. "People wanted to spend money and we had to turn them away"!
Well, not exactly. Most of those people wanted to spend plastic. We are, as a nation, in Carey Street. As a Prime Minister once famously said to the Monarch " King, if I was you I'd put the colonies in your wife's name". Trouble is, we don't have any colonies left, the family silver has been sold, North Sea oil is running out and we are in hock, nationally, to the tune of £35,000 for every family in the land.
We also have some of the highest levels of personal debt in the developed world. Yet in a climate when austerity is the order of the day and when whatever party is in power after the next general election is going to have to cut public spending and we are all being told that we are going to have to economise there is a section of the trading community - the multiple superstores - that is trying to tell us that we cannot get by with only around three hundred days of twenty-four hour shopping in a year!
There is another point that those clamouring for a change to the Sunday Trading laws seem to have overlooked: not only are we proposing to encourage the customer to spend still more money that he or she does not have but we are asking the shop workers to disrupt their family Christmases and go and serve, not just for six hours but for a full trading day, people who have left their homes and their firesides for the opiate of the winter sales. Are those who have flogged themselves half to death catering for the pre-Christmas rush and who are going to be sacrificed on the altar of the annual bargain-hunt for a fortnight into the New Year, not to be allowed at least a couple of days to recuperate over what used to be called Christmas before we became politically correctly "seasonal"?
We are told that this retail binge-buying is good for the economy. Is it, hell! It is good for a few very large chain stores and out-of-town shopping malls. I do not believe that it is good for the small shopkeepers who still manage to survive in spite of an ever-expanding out-of-town purgatory. That is why I would like to hear from any - even one - small shopkeeper who wants to open for more than six hours next Boxing Day.
And if this nonsense ever sees the light of a vote, under any party, in the House of Commons then even if there is a four-line whip I shall vote against it.