Editor-At-Large: Supermarkets need reining in, not royalty

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She's swapped the tiara for a trolley: the first post-wedding picture of our future Queen was taken in the car park of Waitrose in Anglesey as the new Duchess of Cambridge wheeled her purchases, accompanied by three bodyguards and a back-up vehicle. The £50,000 designer dress has been swapped for jeans and comfy shoes. A generation ago, no member of the royal family would have been seen shopping. That was something staff did by phone and tradesmen delivered.

Now, as part of a careful re-branding operation involving a large team of press and PR advisers and designed to ensure that the monarchy is still seen as relevant and value for money, the younger members of the Firm are only too happy to be seen doing "normal" things, just like the rest of us.

Supermarkets are part of modern life, but deep down, we're worried about their all-pervasive presence. Our love/hate relationship with these massive retailers is fascinating. Queen-to-be Kate finds them useful, and has given Waitrose a very public endorsement, but her new father-in-law might disagree. He was happy to take their sponsorship for his eco-gardening event at Clarence House last summer, but that can't have sat easily with his enthusiastic championing of small businesses and farmers. Not to mention his oft-voiced hatred of vulgar architecture. He can't possibly love a big retail box sited in a field.

Our complex relationship with supermarkets is typified by the fact that while Kate is happy to be snapped with her trolley, there have been street battles in Bristol where some local people are outraged by a new branch of Tesco Express in an area packed with small retailers. Banksy has come up with a naff poster of a quasi-petrol bomb in a Tesco bottle, the proceeds of which will be going to the legal fighting fund of those who have been arrested.

I was a supermarket-hater – until masses of you emailed and wrote to me pointing out that, for working people, they are invaluable. These days, like many of you, I've arrived at a compromise, buying meat and veg from stalls and small shops, and the basics from the big chains. Unless more of us do this balancing act, then our high streets will wither and die. Yes, it takes a bit more time, but there isn't really an alternative.

What I particularly loathe about supermarkets is their spurious efforts to appear socially aware. Supermarkets tend to buy internationally, where pay is lower. They only buy from local suppliers when they can get the price down to their acceptable level, meaning suppliers hardly make a profit. The best way to protect our high streets and ensure that small specialist retailers survive is for local councils to charge out-of-town supermarkets higher rates, and reduce the rates paid by the small traders on the high street. Or they could tax the car parks at supermarkets, and use the money to fund cheaper parking in town centres.

Supermarkets always pretend they are there to help us, when the reality is that they exist to help their shareholders. Profit is their goal, pure and simple. So when I saw the new Sainsbury's campaign, Feed your Family for £50 a week, I felt slightly queasy. That's less than the budget for prisoners and only slightly more than that for NHS patients, and we wouldn't rush to either of those organisations for a delicious meal, would we? Yes, we're in a recession, but is a bacon and butterbean hotpot really the best way to get food on the table for less?

This campaign is part of a long-running strategy to demonstrate that Sainsbury's is no more expensive than its rivals. When M&S and Waitrose offered dinner for two for £10, Sainsbury's countered with Dine in for a Fiver. Earlier this year, it promoted meals for four for £20. Now, it's attempting to remove all choice from our lives – log on and with a click of the mouse, you have ordered a week's food. The ingredients included white bread, Nestlé Shredded Wheat in bite-sized chunks, frozen broccoli, frozen pork sausages, a pack of stir-fry mix, basic pasta shapes, and butter spread.

That list makes me want to throw up. I could feed a family of four for a week more imaginatively. The recipes – spaghetti with meatballs, salmon pasta with broccoli, and cottage pie – are time-warp food, totally uninspiring. No lentils. No fresh pasta. No herbs. Bland mush. Sainsbury's is spending £10m on this campaign. Why doesn't it lower prices, instead of suggesting toast and jam for breakfast and a cheese sandwich for lunch?

Ed's doing his own thing (after running it past a focus group)

Ed Miliband isn't a person, he's a project. Sadly, everything the geeky Labour leader does or says seems to be the product of a policy consultation – it's got to tick all the right boxes.

Hence he's getting married (belatedly, after siring two sons) at a nice country hotel in front of 50 friends, but he doesn't want to offend all the unmarried potential Labour voters. So it can't be a traditional affair. He's not having a best man – and now he's not having a stag do. Instead, there will be a dinner for 30 pals, to be held at his home in the next fortnight.

Shall we assume that a quota has been applied and there will be the requisite number of gay, ethnic and disabled guests?

Can a glove puppet help rehabilitate Mel Gibson in the eyes of the public?

Until recently, Mel Gibson was regarded as box office poison in the US. His career has rollercoastered since his debut in Mad Max in 1979 – his antics make Charlie Sheen's misdemeanours look minor league.

Following drunken rants, Gibson has been described as a homophobe, a misogynist and a racist. He threatened to burn down his former girlfriend's house and punched her in the face, breaking two teeth, but he says he's a devout Catholic and directed The Passion of Christ, which made a profit of $600m (£370m).

Now he may be on the brink of an astonishing comeback. His new film The Beaver has created huge excitement in the US, with his performance described as "sensational". Gibson plays the boss of a toy company suffering from manic depression who begins to communicate via a glove puppet found in a bin. You couldn't make it up.

Gibson is rich, so money isn't the issue. Can a glove puppet win him back public affection?

* The Maldives are a luxury travel destination – but how many holidaymakers realise there's another side to paradise? Following the decision to float the local currency against the US dollar, the price of food (most of which has to be imported) has soared by 30 per cent, and there have been six nights of violent unrest in the capital, Male.

A luxury cabana costs thousands of dollars a night, but 16 per cent of the locals live in poverty and unemployment is 14.4 per cent. Tourism is an important part of the economy – but I wonder if recent visitors to the 1,200 islands were even aware of discontent among the locals.





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