Everyone loves John Lewis, especially the Government. But is its reputation justified?

I left, as so often, disorientated and empty-handed

Share

Could it be that the Government’s infatuation with all things John Lewis has been the kiss of death – not to the Coalition, but to the company? From local councils to care services and latterly to schools, ministers have extolled the partnership model that distinguishes John Lewis and called for it to be emulated wherever possible.

A share in the company, we are encouraged to believe, provides staff with good, earned, bonuses when things go well (as opposed to bankers’ bad, undeserved, bonuses). The JL model is supposed to foster a superior standard of service, by motivating every “partner” to take personal responsibility for what they do. And, of course, patronising a John Lewis – or a Waitrose supermarket – encourages us, the customers, to feel superior, for shopping somewhere so eminently decent, rather than in more “commercial” stores.

You might object, not unreasonably, that the Coalition’s preoccupation with John Lewis simply highlights the very middle-class nature of the Coalition, and shows where ministers (and their friends) like to shop. Suggesting that government services imitate say, an unenlightened, uncaring corporate employer, would send the wrong message in so many ways.

I have to ask, though, whether all this praise for the JL model might not be going to the company’s head. Take last weekend. All right, so the closing weekend of many winter sales was perhaps not the time to experience London’s Oxford Street at its best. And I hadn’t actually intended to visit John Lewis, still less its food hall. But I was nearby, so it seemed reasonable to pick up something for supper, and maybe take a cursory look at some clothes rails.

Big mistake. The ladies’ clothing floor wasn’t that crowded, but the impression was one of mild chaos. There doesn’t seem to be any map to tell you what is where, so I never seem to navigate it successfully. I left, as so often, disorientated and empty-handed.

Which is why, at the time, the – blissfully crowd-free – food hall seemed a good idea. Nor was it necessarily the manager’s fault that, amid dozens of “designer” bags of coffees from places like Nicaragua, the one item I had actually come for – plain old Continental ground – was not actually stocked. No matter, I ploughed on through the cheeses and the salads, then looked for the check-out queue. It stretched more than half-way down the hall.

David Cameron shakes hands with a young apprentice during a visit to Waitrose A rough calculation suggested that the wait would be longer than the actual shop. So I abandoned my basket by the exit, explaining to someone identified to me as the duty manager why. She seemed blithely unconcerned, as well she might be, given that almost everyone else seemed reconciled to the wait. Then it got worse. Upstairs, at a desk by the main entrance, was someone who seemed to have something to do with customer service.

He was preoccupied with his screen. I asked whether there was any mechanism for leaving a comment. Oh yes, he said – languidly, I felt. I mentioned the length of the queue in the food hall. To which he responded, “We like queues...” And when you think about it, that’s a rational answer. Queues mean a large number of customers, but also a large ratio of customers to staff, and so bigger bonuses for “partners”. Until, that is, those customers start to fall away.

You could reasonably argue, of course, that one frustrating visit quite late in the day, a few disconsolate staff and a facetious comment hardly add up to a dead canary in a coalmine. And you would be right. But I would also mention a time-consuming hunt for any member of staff in another flagship JL store, and the small, cramped Little Waitrose that has opened locally, which is disorganised, stocks almost no Waitrose own-brands and manages to be even more expensive than the corner convenience store. One dispiriting conclusion might be that, rather than government going the way of John Lewis, the influence – alas – risks going in the opposite direction.

How did these teens get away with it?

If anyone was more astonished than Stonyhurst’s head, Andrew Johnson, to learn that two of his pupils had nipped off to the Caribbean, it was probably 17-year-old Indira Gainiyeva’s father. You can understand why this presumably well-heeled Kazakh businessman might have chosen Stonyhurst for his daughter: at £29,000 a year, it is reassuringly expensive; it’s far away from city fleshpots, and, as a Jesuit foundation, a byword for discipline. You can also understand why he might now not be very pleased.

So I worry about what awaits Indira when she returns to Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country about as far from the sun-drenched freedoms of the Caribbean as you can imagine. But another question still nags about this escapade. Forget school security: is it legal for a pair of minors to buy air tickets with a credit card and take a long-haul flight from a major UK airport by themselves? If it’s that simple, I would bet that a good many will try to follow where they have led.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£24000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Situated in the heart of Bradfo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior IT Support / Projects Engineer

£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Bench Joiner & Wood Machinist

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This busy local Joinery company...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Adviser

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you recently QCA Level 4 qu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Mininster: I would legislate for abortion on demand and abolish VAT on sanitary products

Caroline Criado-Perez
 

Election catch-up: Just what the election needs – another superficially popular but foolish policy

John Rentoul
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence