Peter York: Waitrose, that apogee of nice, adds price to its middle-class attractions

You have to admit it's been nice. The past 10 years have been nice as anything. You might say it's been a bit bland, with people urging us to be Corporately Socially Responsible, Politically Correct, to think about the environment (I've really tried). The usual suspects muttered about "nanny state" and "PC gone mad" but felt impotent for ages.

The prospectus for the last Labour decade was brilliantly set out and, for many of us, it delivered. There was the embarrassment that our increasing social polarisation, started under Thatcher, got no better. Actually it got worse. But you could talk your way round that in, say, 2005-06, remarking that the quality of life was moving up for almost everyone above a modest social plimsoll mark. There was 9/11 and the Iraq War of course, but the real story of the decade was that positive surge of niceness.

Nice – Non-Inflationary-Constant-Expansion – was the economists' word for it when they celebrated 10 years of Bank of England independence in May 2007. Gorgeous stability and the impression of limitless money for absolutely everything – buying houses, opening lovely new shops, raising our game at an extraordinary rate and buying into bling.

If maddeningly bland was one criticism, then the other, from residual moralising lefties, was about bling. Celebrity culture, the show-offs and the Petrus Playboys. And Big London's completely shameless foreign rich, who bought up the big houses and everything else – the art, the girls, the parties. All this annoyed people to left and right.

But still the big story remained the relentless niceness – the warm, wet, everybody wins world of telethons, freelance caring and the New Language. There were people and companies who said they were "passionate" about all kinds of things, big and small. Odeon – not an organisation that had mustered much madness before – said it was "fanatical about film". And – a side effect of political correctness – fast-gentrifying areas with very diverse populations were always described as "vibrant", as if they were constantly quivering. All these words were meant to catch the mood.

Nothing in this world is nicer than Waitrose, the consensus brand of the concerned middle classes, the food incarnation of the John Lewis Partnership. Waitrose is owned by its employees, Waitrose sells nice things to nice people, Waitrose was an organic and a Fairtrade pioneer and it sells a disproportionate share of those niceness foods. And the shops, especially in their 2007 refits, are almost impossibly nice.

But the summer 2008 Waitrose commercials face both ways. In one, the long mood-setting armchair treatment, Waitrose seems to be laying on the biggest picnic in the world. Hundreds of nice people and their gambolling children go out somewhere lovely and tear up nice bread to eat with nice cheese and fruit, like they do on the solid- planked Conran kitchen table at home. And the music is that darlingly nice old hippie thing, Canned Heat's 'Going Up Country' with its nostalgic kazoo-ey sound. And they all seem to be on those nostalgic pinky-bluey blankets that cost a ton. The new strapline – and how caring is this? – is something about everybody.

But in the short commercials that flank this ultra-nice production number, the message is more basic, more 2008-crunchy. Across a range of pleasant summer things – berries, say, or thick-cut ham – Waitrose, for the first time I can remember, is saying half-price, adding Price to Nice.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Danny Cipriani of England breaks clear to score his second try
Life and Style
New research says leaving your desk can help you to avoid serious illness
Arts and Entertainment
tvSPOILER ALERT: Like a mash-up of 28 Days Later, Braveheart, The Killing and Lord of the Rings, this GoT episode was a belter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Insight Analyst

£32 - £37K + extensive benefits: Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Ins...

Guru Careers: Junior Designer / Design Graduate

£18 - 20k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Junior Designer / Design Graduate to...

Guru Careers: Project Manager

£30 - 40k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Project Manager is needed to join a leading s...

Guru Careers: Creative Artworker

£20 - 25k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Creative Artworker is needed to join a highly...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral