Looking for all the world like a Harvard honed CEO from a multinational, Stephen Byers promenaded around New Labour's Brighton conference this week, preaching the competitiveness gospel but saying nothing about supermarket profitability. It was his colleague, the erudite Kim Howells, at a BRC fringe meeting, who raised multiple spirits with the comment that government should be careful not to inject more regulation into a sector where there's healthy competition. Thankfully, it was only in the darkest corners of the heavily guarded conference centre that the phrase Rip-off Britain (as far as grocery is concerned) was heard. And then it was mouthed by thick sweatered political yobbos wittering on the fringe of the New Labour jamboree. But if you were an anxious supermarket exec, sweating almost as much as Tony Blair in his keynote speech, the nods and winks in the corridors left the impression that when Byers finally goes public on the trade's hottest issue for years the news might not be as damning as some predict. Indeed, my lasting memory of Brighton is of being buttonholed by one of Labour's greatest cabinet figures, these days only a conference bystander, who prodded my chest with the comment: "Only a fool would say there's no competition in the grocery business. If Byers pursues this one he'll be left with egg on his face." But perhaps one of the biggest clues to the shape of things to come was given by Nick Brown. When not being his usual, affable self, he waxed wisely to eager hacks about the need to extend the recently completed trading code of practice across the whole food chain, rather than just among the six top multiples who, with the IGD, have developed the idea. So it could be that if Nick persuades the entire food chain to back a groundbreaking code he will give Byers the chance to save face, dump the Rip-off crusade, and come out of the futile grocery competition affair without too much yolk on his ministerial specs. Clive Beddall, Editor {{OPINION }}