The Third Leader: Bean counting

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Significant news: there's not an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. Nor anywhere else, for that matter. Poor growing conditions last year have severely affected production. Prices are set to soar this month. Now you might think this a minor matter, compared to, say, the price of oil. We in The Third Leader department say: think again.

Significant news: there's not an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. Nor anywhere else, for that matter. Poor growing conditions last year have severely affected production. Prices are set to soar this month. Now you might think this a minor matter, compared to, say, the price of oil. We in The Third Leader department say: think again.

For this, as I'm sure you've noticed, particularly if you're from the West Midlands, is the post-industrial society; and the post-industrial society runs on coffee, not oil. Summon up an image of Tony Blair, for example, in relaxed, trust-me, shirt-sleeved mode: what's that in his hand? Exactly. Alexander Pope had it right: "Coffee, which makes the politician wise."

Tony Blair's mug is as much a prop as Harold Wilson's pipe, Margaret Thatcher's handbag, or John Major's underwear arrangements. At election time, though, association with a big price-hike could be highly counter-productive.

Solution? Well, tea needs a boost, but the cuppa is rather Old Labour, folksy, rather, well, Bennite, isn't it? No, we suggest a substitute which would be fashionably retro with edgily stylish connotations: snuff. A perfect prop, allowing both the easy expression of disdain and time to think, once you've conquered the involuntary sneezing.

Let's not ignore the potential problems for the country's coffee houses, leading feature of both our pre- and post-industrial societies, with the difference that people used to tarry and talk in the old ones, while we tend to get out fast before they force us on to one of those stools. Still, they could always stop serving coffee and just charge for the mental stimulation of all those multiple choice questions.

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