I've never had much time for the self-important utterances of our Speaker's wife, but when Sally Bercow failed to find much sympathy for struggling retailers on Twitter, she hit on an uncomfortable truth. According to Sally, it was "sad" that household names such as Habitat and Focus were in trouble, but not really that tragic as she never shopped at any of them. She trashed chocolate retailer Thorntons (closing 120 stores) as a "yucky-tasting rip-off", and described Carpetright (shutting up to 50 stores) as "overrated". Even Jane Norman (shedding 30 stores) got a lashing for flogging "clothes for skinny minnies".
Was Sally insensitive? It wasn't clever to mouth off at a time when tens of thousands (mostly women) will lose their jobs, but Miss Motormouth put her finger on an unpalatable truth. Consumers have fallen out of love with the high street. We have become super-picky about where we shop – increasingly, we'd rather sit at home and click. A mouse doesn't look at your arse and say they don't stock your size. A mouse isn't judgemental when you buy the cheapest in bulk. A mouse isn't on a mobile phone talking to their mate while you can't find what you want. A mouse negates the need to traipse into town, find a parking spot or spend money travelling to a superstore where you will waste an hour walking up and down an aisle. We've become super-selective. Very few brands inspire undying love in the brutal world of retail – even Marks and Spencer has started its sale two weeks early, desperate to shift stock.
I laughed when I heard that self-styled Queen of Shops Mary Portas had been asked by David Cameron to conduct a review into the parlous state of our shopping centres. She is a brilliant broadcaster, but her expertise as a professional retail analyst and consultant has been bought by companies like Westfield (whose malls could be blamed for the demise of small shops) – so how can she be impartial? More importantly, retailing has stagnated and then slumped in the last six weeks making her task close to impossible; there was a fresh bunch of closures last week when rents were due and struggling companies gave up the fight.
You can't breath life into a corpse, and the time has come to declare the British high street dead and buried. Our retail habits have changed for good. It's time to be bold and think what we might turn our decaying city centres into, not pay Mary Portas to administer temporary oxygen and a sticking plaster. The terminal decline is painfully obvious. Last weekend I visited Folkestone, where, like hundreds of towns, shop after shop in the pretty old part of town was boarded up, and even in the modern pedestrianised shopping area there were empty premises galore and the pound shop had become a 99p emporium.
A spokesman from Asda alludes to a "toxic mix of facts and fear" as government talk of bailing out bankrupt EU countries as well as the constant drip of cost-cutting terrifies shoppers into restraint. The "average household" tracked by Asda has seen its disposable income drop by 8 per cent in a year – the largest dip the retailer has recorded – to only £165 a week. Some families are £60 a month worse off than a year ago, as prices for some basic foods have risen by 25 per cent, petrol by 13 per cent and transport by 8 per cent. Inflation is running at 4.5 per cent, twice the rate of earnings growth.
Nervous about our future, we're buying carefully. The Bank of England says we're in for "an uncomfortable" few years. If we're not shopping, that's bad news for the 10 per cent of the workforce that's in retail, and even worse news for the economy, where consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of GDP. I didn't shed a tear for Habitat, and I prefer Whitakers' chocs to Thorntons'. Like Sally B, and plenty of you, I have become a ruthless online shopper, endlessly comparing goods. Online there are millions of quirky brands that prosper without having to pay rent in the high street or employ lacklustre shop assistants. Online is the future, and Mary Portas and her doomed review won't make an iota of difference. Turn those boarded-up shops into affordable housing, youth clubs, galleries and schools – they'll never be a grocer's or a butcher's again.
Serpentine party has gone from swanky to manky
The Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens is a small space in a wonderful location which punches above its weight for one reason. For 11 years, it has commissioned acclaimed architects such as Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry to construct a temporary summer pavilion, launched with a swanky fundraising party attended by trendy London. That's where Princess Diana pitched up when her marriage hit the buffers, wearing a stunning off-the-shoulder black frock. If past visitor numbers are a guide, up to 800,000 will wander through this year's offering by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, whose austere single-storey construction surrounds a contemplative garden. Sadly, the glamorous launch party has degenerated into a trashy parade of heavily accented women with little interest in art and every interest in snaring a rich bloke. Their dresses were short, frontless and backless, and they struggled to navigate the soggy turf in their Louboutins. Luckily, the cloisters in the pavilion provided welcome shelter from the persistent drizzle. The garden these looked on to wouldn't have been accepted for the Chelsea Flower show and the building itself isn't as sexy as a prefab. This time, the hype falls far short of the reality.
This charmless man is at it again
Yes, the world's biggest misery is at it again. Morrissey has been moaning on the music website Pitchfork. He hasn't got a record company and he's not releasing his new songs for free. The press only write about him "in terms of the Smiths", and when he played Glastonbury "the rain was bitingly cold and the audience were soaked and covered in wet mud and it was dark and dismal and every time I opened my mouth I swallowed rain. Under such conditions you can't really expect much from an audience. I think they were there for U2 anyway". Contrast this with Take That, touring the UK and playing eight shows at Wembley stadium in all weathers. We haven't heard Gary, Robbie or Jason whingeing about rain in their mouths.
Meet the gleaming neighbours
The normally restrained residents of swanky Hancock Park in Los Angeles are beside themselves about the impending visitof Kate and William. The royal couple will be staying at the mansion of our Consul-General, Dame Barbara Hay, designed byWallace Neff in 1928. Neighbours have been asked to sign privacy agreements, but the folk next door – Emily Harrison and hermother Bunny – have been blabbing to the press. Regular guests at Dame Barbara’s parties, they plan to get spray tansand have their teeth whitened in case they “run into” Kate. Teeth whitening has replaced seeing a chiropodist, getting your rootstinted or having your legs waxed as the beauty treatment that can’t be skimped. When we’re 90, we’ll still have the bright teeth of 10-year-olds … which could look a bit freaky.