As Gordon Brown prepares to take office, much is being written about the New Puritans - a high-profile group of his friends who are socially conscious, donate time and money to charitable causes, and who shun conspicuous consumption. People such as Zac Goldsmith, J K Rowling, Trudie and Sting, Bono and his wife, Ali, with her ethical clothing range. They are serious, committed, concerned, intent on doing good.
You could be cynical and point out that rock stars whose wives wear couture and who travel in private jets are not the most consistent of campaigners, but that's nit picking, isn't it? Now, social commentators are rushing to jump on the bandwagon and slag off as obscene those big city bonuses, flash cars, and lavish living. Even Marks and Sparks have told us all to wash our clothes at 30C to save the planet. There are messages to recycle, turn off the lights and go green being beamed at us on all fronts.
Suddenly, being a consumer has become a dirty word - and admitting that shopping turns you on or cheers you up is the 21st-century equivalent of owning up to an out-of-control crack habit. Victoria Beckham, with her new-outfit-a-day addiction, is starting to look incredibly off-message. We aren't allowed free plastic carrier bags at an increasing number of supermarkets and now we are being told we should stop buying unnecessary clothes too.
Jane Shepherdson was the brand director of Top Shop, who turned the business around with her unique ability to anticipate the market. She resigned after her boss, Philip Green, announced that Kate Moss would be designing a range for the chain. Recently Ms Shepherdson, who is now a board member of the ethical clothing company People Tree, commented that "we should always question that if something is very cheap and if you, the consumer aren't paying for it, then someone, somewhere down the line is paying". In other words, the current situation, where high-street retailers flood the market with ultra-cheap clothes, has come about because the fashion industry is using labour paid well below our minimum wage, often under-age, regularly working in appalling conditions in the third world.
Her sentiments are very New Puritan - ironic, as she started the cult of ultra-cheap clothing. But she does have a point. How many T-shirts, handbags and flip flops do we ever really need? Now Visa has jumped on the bandwagon, using the actress Mischa Barton as their spokeswoman and opening a Visa Swap shop in Knightsbridge, where women can take unwanted clothing and trade it for points used to trade for someone else's cast-offs. The event culminates this weekend with a giant swapathon, organised with the environmental charity Triad (Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development). Isn't it just a version of that tried and tested source of bargains, the jumble sale?
We laughed when second-hand clothes were designated "vintage". We laughed even more when fashionistas told us that celebs wore this stuff in order to save the planet by promoting recycling. And now it's even funnier that a gang of women who pay £800 for a handbag made from reptiles killed in Africa or South America think that they are part of a new responsible bunch of consumers because they swap clothes. They'll still have cupboards full of stuff from Top Shop - because being a New Puritan is a ridiculous, unworkable conceit.
Sorry, Tim, but it is time to quit
As one young British sportsman makes history by winning a Grand Prix in his first season, another is in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Tim Henman crashed out of the Stella Artois tournament in the first round for the first time in his long and distinguished career - beaten by an 18-year-old from Croatia. I sat in the crowd and groaned as the inevitable "come on Tim" brigade launched into action. Henman started playing again in February this year after a four-month lay-off with knee problems. Marin Cilic, who beat him, is at the start of his career - and Tim has to work out how to retire gracefully. He should quit while he retains some dignity - because Cilic made the British player look decades older than his 32 years.
* Last night, I helped to launch Architecture Week at P3, an exciting new exhibition space created from a former concrete-testing area within Westminster University. On Monday evening, the Gala concert celebrating the reopening of the Festival Hall after a refurbishment programme lasting two years was also a memorable occasion. The wonderful new acoustics were much in evidence during an extremely moving performance of Charles Ives's melancholic piece The Unanswered Question, with flutes, strings and a single trumpet placed all around the auditorium. Afterwards, everyone was raving, not just about the music, but about the way the building has been opened up. Now it has a transparency revealing wonderful views on all sides. Good architecture isn't just about macho pieces of work, like the 50-storey Vauxhall Tower in London that John Prescott shamefully gave the go-ahead to in 2005, but about extending the uses of existing buildings and giving them a fresh lease of life . Which is why I salute P3 and the Festival Hall.Reuse content