Terence Blacker: A break from shopping is what we need

The only faith in this Sunday trading debate is the worship of profit above all else

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There has been a significant silence over the past two weeks from those who like to nag about productivity. After the Diamond Jubilee, they complained that an extra holiday had made a dent in gross national product. Later, they muttered that bank holidays were not cost-effective, and should be re-thought.

Yet during a fortnight when everyone, the Prime Minister downwards, has bunked off work to watch taekwondo or water polo or cycling, when money-making has briefly been forgotten, not a word of concern has been uttered by the dead-eyed worshippers of profit.

Now they are back. Encouraged by their spiritual leader, the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, they are mounting a campaign to remove that last, small protection against round-the-clock consumerism, the 1994 Sunday Trading Act.

A few months back, the Government vowed that the suspension of these laws during the Olympics would not be the thin end of any legislative wedge. Pickles, for one, has had second thoughts. "I'd be willing to see what the difference in trading patterns were," he has said. "I'm always keen to respect people's religious beliefs, but I think we should kind of look long and hard at the results."

These words, being translated, mean that removing the constraint on supermarkets selling all day on Sundays could well be that most beautiful thing for drones, "pro-growth". The reference to religious beliefs is, of course, utterly bogus: believing that not every hour of every day of every week should be devoted to the making and spending of money has nothing to do with religion. Indeed, the only faith that is obviously in evidence in this debate is the worship of profit above all else.

The past two weeks have provided an important reminder that the dreary, reduced worldview of Pickles, Osborne and others is limited. Much of the cheerfulness shown at London 2012 emerged because people were given a break from the market. They were either on holiday or were working at half-speed. The Games were – unexpectedly, one has to admit – free of corporate nagging.

Sunday trading laws are important because they offer a small, regular version of that respite and, in doing so, provide positive side-effects. Thousands of employees are not obliged to work on the one day when they can see family and friends. Small retailers are provided with what is often a lifeline of trade. For the rest of us, it is good to be off the treadmill of consumerism, if only for a few hours, once a week.