Labour backs down in Waitrose row


Labour moved to head off a damaging row about its approach to successful British companies on Saturday evening when the shadow business secretary slapped down a fellow MP who had attacked Waitrose for providing customers with free coffee, reports The Telegraph.

With the issue threatening to turn into an embarrassing row over Labour’s “anti-business” policies, Chuka Umunna said that Waitrose was a “fantastic” operation which should be applauded for its positive approach to employment and business issues.

As part of the John Lewis Partnership, the supermarket operates a widely praised “partnership” model where all staff have a share in company profits.

On Saturday it was revealed that Andy Sawford, Labour MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire, had attacked Waitrose for offering free coffee and newspapers to myWaitrose loyalty card holders. He claimed the offer had a “stark effect” on local coffee shops and newsagents.

Mr Sawford has written to every MP with a Waitrose store in their constituency to put pressure on the supermarket to withdraw the scheme “in the spirit of fair competition”.

His attack was immediately ridiculed. Mark Price, the managing director of Waitrose, said that Mr Sawford, the shadow communities secretary, was “completely misguided”.

It was also revealed that Mr Sawford is funded by the Co-operative movement which runs the Co-op supermarkets, competitors to Waitrose.

“This is all, if you’ll excuse the pun, a bit of froth,” Mr Umunna said. “It doesn’t represent party policy, he is a constituency MP raising a local matter.

“Waitrose employs thousands of people and promotes the type of practices we want to promote. It is a great business.”

Asked if he had any problem with Waitrose providing free coffee, Mr Umunna said: “I don’t have any issue with that.”

The Conservatives leapt on Mr Sawford’s attack, which was widely seen as having backfired. “Labour is yet again showing itself to be anti-business with its absurd anti-Waitrose rhetoric – a risk to the recovery, to jobs and security,” said Matthew Hancock, the enterprise minister.