Labour is courting big business. And the attraction is mutual. How that bromance likely plays out in food and drink is our cover story this week. And supermarkets look well positioned to strike up a constructive relationship.
If the comments of Wes Streeting this week are anything to go by, however, relations with food suppliers are likely to be more, er, frosty. Speaking at the Times Health Commission summit, Streeting promised to build a coalition of leading figures to tackle the obesity crisis, while vowing to “steamroll” the “highly manipulative” food industry into promoting healthier options, As he put it: “You either get on board the steamroller or you’re going under it.” Ouch.
As well as pledging to support a pre-watershed ad ban on HFSS foods, the shadow health secretary also felt there was a “serious case to be made” for wider marketing restrictions, including a packaging ban on cartoon characters such as Tony the Tiger. Instead he suggested such cartoons should be deployed to promote fruit & veg. That’s not such a bad idea, in principle. The Eat Them to Defeat Them campaign was a nice first try but quickly ran out of, er, steam. But in practice it’s far-fetched, as there’s no budget or even a brand to back the idea.
So let’s see if Streeting’s steamroller does indeed build up a head of steam. Or whether it’s just more hot air. The big food lobby has been highly effective in slowing down, diverting and stopping so-called ‘junk food’ legislation in its tracks, notably using the cost of living crisis as its trump card. And Streeting himself previously supported the government’s HFSS u-turn, admitting it would be “tin-eared” to impose anti-obesity measures when food prices were rising.
So which way will he go? Forwards, sideways or backwards? As Labour has shown already this week with the u-turn on its £28bn Green Prosperity Fund pledge, it’s desperate to prove to business and the electorate that it won’t just lumber the nation with costs it cannot fund. Will that also apply to food? There are lots of tests to come. On both sides of the relationship.