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Editor’s letter: A chocolate orange

Now, Tory leader David Cameron is taking New Conservatives ­ or to borrow
from my homeland Canadians, Progressive Conservatives ­ into debating territory
they had previously regarded as unmentionable in polite society.
It came to a head, it would seem, when Cameron was buying a newspaper in WH
Smith and spotted that the shop was selling tempting, cheaply-priced,
fat-inducing chocolate oranges by the till. He said that retailers should be
more responsible towards a society struggling with obesity.

Two observations: first, one commentator has pointed out that it would
presumably have been perfectly acceptable to Cameron for the shop to display
newspapers near the till where someone was buying a chocolate orange. Second, at
least Cameron is talking a lot about responsibility, not regulation.

The recent Tory party press ad set out an agenda that could dramatically
shift the way a Conservative government works with big business and champions
consumers. “Free trade must be matched by fairness and compassion,” it said.
“Fighting global poverty is our moral obligation: a priority, not an

The most quoted line from that ad was: “We should not just stand up for big
business, but stand up to big business when it’s in the interests of Britain and
the world.” This last line was in the context of carbon emissions and global
warming, but coupled with his views on free trade and chocolate oranges,
Cameron’s approach to his party’s traditional heartland is challenging ­ and
bound to have voter-appeal.

It means, moreover, that there will increasingly be a debate about the role
and responsibilities of business, especially big business. How much tax should
business pay here? What should it do about Asian sweatshops in the
supplier-base? Does corporate social responsibility extend from confectionery to
famine-relief? How big can a small business get before it’s a big business? Do
profits have any purpose other than to enrich shareholders?
Expect more debate in this vein. And be prepared to be called upon to engage in
the dialogue.

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Philip Hammond