Sunday, 17 April 2016

McDonald's and Labour "Snobbishness"

What kind of company should be allowed to have a corporate stand at Labour Party conference? Should all-comers be taken provided they stump up the readies, or as a minimum are they expected to subscribe to a set of standards around employment relations, trade union recognition, and ethical practices (whatever they are)? I ask because a row is being stoked by the usual moaners about Labour's decision to refuse a stand (worth £30,000) at this year's conference in Liverpool.

In a typically dishonest article, The Sun says McDonald's have been "banned", and Wes Streeting is called upon to denounce the "snobby attitude towards fast-food restaurants and people who work or eat at them." It's worth stating at this point there is no suggestion whatsoever that the "banning" took place because NEC members disapprove of fast food. That has been made up by The Sun, and it is disappointing - to put it euphemistically - for Wes and others to join one of our movement's fiercest enemies in dumping on our party.

In my years on the left, I've occasionally encountered snobbish attitudes towards McDonald's, albeit indirectly. One of my erstwhile Socialist Party comrades told me he had to argue down a SWP proposal at his local trades council to boycott and picket several city centre branches. Likewise, cast your minds back to the anti-capitalist protests of the early noughties. If there was a McDonald's along the route, it could expect to have its windows smashed. In both cases, it was lifestyle leftyism of the most cretinous kind, of appearing super-radical and being seen to offer no quarter to a prominent manifestation of global capitalism. I suppose having scant regard for the (low paid) people who work there, and the families for whom a Maccy's is a cheap way of eating out is another sign of revolutionary grit.

Most people with a scant interest in politics know there is an element of lifestylism to Jez's politics, including a good section of the new party members. In the absence of an explanation why the NEC decided to not grant McDonald's a stall The Sun's view is superficially plausible. However, as he piled in surely Wes could not help but be reminded that many of his PLP friends on the "trendy" right of the party are more likely to indulge a quinoa smoothie than a McDonald's milkshake.

There are many good reasons why a business like McDonald's shouldn't have a space at Labour Party conference. Refusal to offer permanent full-time jobs is one of those, even though it is moving away from zero hour contracts. Not recognising a trade union is another. And that's before we start talking about its toxic environmental record. Note to moaning Labour MPs who think it's madness to turn £30k down: it's hypocritical and politically stupid to take money from businesses whose practices are at odds with the values and objectives of the movement of which you're part. And for those PLP members who find walking and breathing at the same time difficult, it's quite possible to have this position without being "snobbish".

Of course, there might be a more mundane explanation. Labour Party conference this year is set to be the biggest we've seen for many a year as thousands of new members visit for the first time. More visitors = a larger audience strolling around the exhibition centre, and the more the party can ask exhibitors to cough up. It's not beyond the realms of that McDonald's were unwilling to pay more than £30k. Not everything is a nefarious conspiracy.

As this was a NEC decision the details will be out in a forthcoming report.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why should anyone be disappointed by the perpetually disappointing Wes Streeting? He is promoted above his ability

Paul Canning said...

The problem, as the LabourList piece points out, is inconsistency. Fine to have a policy but to apply it just to McDonalds does look like snobbishness.

BCFG said...

I presume each company that took up a stand was subjected to some sort of evaluation. So to presume snobbishness took place is, well, presumptuous and almost certainly a presumption with malice aforethought!

To be honest even if McDonalds were a super employer and treated its workers really well there would still be good reason to ban them on the grounds that their product is unhealthy and that the party do not want to promote companies who have no concern for the damage their product does.

This should not be seen as censorship because no one is talking about banning McDonalds from selling their unhealthy crap but a party should have the right to not endorse the company and its products.

I would treat fast food in the same way as cigarette manufacturers. Banning them wouldn't be snobbish but a perfectly honourable and justified position to take. Banning cigarette manufacturers could be seen as an insult to all those people who smoke but seriously, tough shit.

I would also ban the Sun newspaper because what fast food does for the body, the Sun equally does for the brain!

Bring Your Own Wine said...

Damned if they do, damned if they don't... from 2001: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/1516214.stm