Simon Kelner: Why Clegg's 'John Lewis Britain' is a sensible idea

Kelner's View

Share

My Auntie Bertha has never been a football fan. In fact, she has only gone to one football match in her long lifetime. It just happened to be the World Cup final of 1966 at Wembley when, of course, England beat West Germany to become world champions for the first and only time.

Knowing that it doesn't get much better than this, I suppose Auntie Bertha never saw the need to go to another football match. She was there only because her employers at the time had some spare tickets for the game and distributed them, by means of a free draw, to lucky members of staff.

So which British company was it that behaved in such a spontaneous and collegiate way to their employees? You may have already guessed it. Auntie Bertha worked in the lighting department of John Lewis.

Ever since I heard this story, I have had a warm feeling towards John Lewis. Can you imagine a big company these days behaving in such a generous fashion? Oh, we've got some tickets for the 100m final at the Olympics. We were going to give them to favoured clients and investors, but we've decided to hand them out on the shop floor.

John Lewis has become a byword for good staff relations and exemplary corporate ethics, and – guess what – this then feeds through to its public image. Its employees are called partners, and, at all levels, have a stakeholding in the company and share in the company's profits, while its communications with the outside world – through its homely Christmas television ads or by means of its "never knowingly undersold" slogan – underline a wholesome and trusted image.

Little wonder, therefore, that politicians are so keen to associate themselves with the John Lewis brand. Yesterday, it was Nick Clegg, who expressed the desire to turn Britain into a "John Lewis economy" in which we all had a stake, rather than the current state of affairs, in which Bob Diamond and his bunch of bankers trouser their huge bonuses while the rest of us are left to take the austerity pill.

"I want this to be the decade of employee share ownership," said the Deputy Prime Minister, adding that too much wealth in Britain is "monopolised by the few". Ignoring for a minute that this was something that Gordon Brown first floated before the last election - and that "John Lewis Britain" comes a bit close on the heels of "Alarm Clock Britain" – Clegg's suggestion that companies should be given tax incentives to offer their employees shares is surely a sensible one.

Popular capitalism may be something of a contradiction in terms these days – in fact, rarely has capitalism been more unpopular – but even the Conservatives have embraced the idea that wealth creation should be a more inclusive process. Other companies have followed the lead of John Lewis and have put their ownership in the hands of staff but, in time-honoured fashion, the value of your investment can go down as well as up.

An overwhelming majority of Northern Rock employees had signed up for shares that became as good as worthless when the bank was put into public ownership.

Unfortunately for them, their share scheme was not advertised as "never knowingly undervalued".

 

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?