Former Asda chairman and Tory MP Archie Norman claimed the current breed of politicians and regulators are the most reactionary yet and retailers need to stay ahead of the tide of regulation.

In a provocative speech at The Grocer Gold Awards this week, Norman said the reaction of politicians to issues such as rising food and fuel prices, binge-drinking, dieting, obesity and even knife crime would all have an impact on retailers.

"Retailers need to stand together or risk being hung apart," urged Norman. "We need to shape or be shaped as regulators become more political and politicians become more populist.

"This isn't just politicians, they're playing against the public mood, which is anti-enterprise. The tide is moving against us.

"Industry has to rise to the public challenge and be robust in defence of what you have achieved."

Referring to recent high-profile investigations and dawn raids at supermarkets by the Office of Fair Trading, Norman also accused the competition watchdog of "grandstanding in the media".

This he said was leading to a "bipolar" relationship between the retailers and government. He called for less interference in the grocery sector, which he said would heal itself of any unfairness over time.

"The authorities should avoid twitching their fingers over regulation," he said. "Any regulation would to my mind be unnecessary and ineffective.

"Changing the basis of the entire planning system on the basis of market imbalance in just 30 towns would be absurd, as would an ombudsman. It won't work, small suppliers won't appeal or they won't be small suppliers any more.

"The remedies of the Commission are disproportionate in intent and inefficient in impact," he added.

"In my opinion, everything the regulators set out to achieve can be achieved better through enterprise."'Uk has the best people'

Having already persuaded five leading UK executives to join him in Australia, Archie Norman could be planning a further smash-and-grab raid on the UK grocery sector in a bid to bolster his team at Australian retailer Coles.

Norman, who was appointed chairman of the Coles food, liquor and convenience business last October, said he was constantly impressed by the talent of people employed in the UK grocery sector. "The UK sector has the best people. The grocery industry over here is now seen as somewhere to recruit from. That was certainly not the case when I came into it 20 years ago."

In a call to the audience at The Grocer Gold Awards, he said he would welcome any applications from the UK to help him run the new business and jokingly asked anyone who might be interested to see him afterwards.