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Labour and the Big Mac: Snobbery or principle?

Corbyn and the Big MacWhat kind of company should be allowed to have a corporate stand at Labour Party conference? Should all-comers be taken provided they stump up the readies, or as a minimum are they expected to subscribe to a set of standards around employment relations, trade union recognition, and ethical practices (whatever they are)? I ask because a row is being stoked by the usual moaners about Labour’s decision to refuse a stand (worth £30,000) at this year’s conference in Liverpool.

In a typically dishonest article, The Sun says McDonald’s have been “banned”, and Wes Streeting is called upon to denounce the “snobby attitude towards fast-food restaurants and people who work or eat at them.” It’s worth stating at this point there is no suggestion whatsoever that the “banning” took place because NEC members disapprove of fast food. That has been made up by The Sun, and it is disappointing – to put it euphemistically – for Wes and others to join one of our movement’s fiercest enemies in dumping on our party.

In my years on the left, I’ve occasionally encountered snobbish attitudes towards McDonald’s, albeit indirectly. One of my erstwhile Socialist Party comrades told me he had to argue down a SWP proposal at his local trades council to boycott and picket several city centre branches. Likewise, cast your minds back to the anti-capitalist protests of the early noughties. If there was a McDonald’s along the route, it could expect to have its windows smashed. In both cases, it was lifestyle leftyism of the most cretinous kind, of appearing super-radical and being seen to offer no quarter to a prominent manifestation of global capitalism. I suppose having scant regard for the (low paid) people who work there, and the families for whom a Maccy’s is a cheap way of eating out is another sign of revolutionary grit.

Most people with a scant interest in politics know there is an element of lifestylism to Jez’s politics, including a good section of the new party members. In the absence of an explanation why the NEC decided to not grant McDonald’s a stall The Sun‘s view is superficially plausible. However, as he piled in surely Wes could not help but be reminded that many of his PLP friends on the “trendy” right of the party are more likely to indulge a quinoa smoothie than a McDonald’s milkshake.

There are many good reasons why a business like McDonald’s shouldn’t have a space at Labour Party conference. Refusal to offer permanent full-time jobs is one of those, even though it is moving away from zero hour contracts. Not recognising a trade union is another. And that’s before we start talking about its toxic environmental record. Note to moaning Labour MPs who think it’s madness to turn £30k down: it’s hypocritical and politically stupid to take money from businesses whose practices are at odds with the values and objectives of the movement of which you’re part. And for those PLP members who find walking and breathing at the same time difficult, it’s quite possible to have this position without being “snobbish”.

Of course, there might be a more mundane explanation. Labour Party conference this year is set to be the biggest we’ve seen for many a year as thousands of new members visit for the first time. More visitors = a larger audience strolling around the exhibition centre, and the more the party can ask exhibitors to cough up. It’s not beyond the realms of that McDonald’s were unwilling to pay more than £30k. Not everything is a nefarious conspiracy.

As this was a NEC decision the details will be out in a forthcoming report.

This article first appeared at All that is Solid


  1. Tony says:

    It seem very unwise to take a decision without explaining why.

  2. Bob Walker says:

    Is it “snobby” to not support a company that exploits its workers and makes huge profits on the back of slaughtering huge numbers of sentient beings? I would have thought it was more about ethics…

  3. Karl Stewart says:

    Timely article Phil.

    Bizarre how much fuss the whiney Red Tory Wes Streeting is making about this.

    Is he working PR for MacDonalds on the side?

  4. John P Reid says:

    Wes was asked to comment, why shouldn’t he, if he represents working class voters, that this article points out, were ones the SWP hasn’t a clue about, as for referencing the Sun as the usual moaners, isn’t the Sun, like McDonald’s a product the working class go for.

    1. James Martin says:

      Wes Streeting is rapidly developing a reputation as an unthinking rent-a-gob for the right wing media. He was one of the first attacking Jeremy for anti-Semitic remarks made by a member when when Ed was leader 2 years ago, now he is one of the first to make a fool of himself with this issue. Perhaps at some point he might just reflect that he is a member of a political party that was founded by, and continues to represent, the trade union movement when he turns a blind eye to anti-union employers like McDonalds, but I won’t hold my breath. As for the Scum newspaper just ask yourself why working class people in Merseyside never buy that nasty horrible rag before you excuse its existence.

      1. John P Reid says:

        He was leader of the NUS. when the hard left were dishing out anti Semitic remarks

          1. James Martin says:

            Wow, first you link The Scum, and now the even scummier Guido, what on earth is wrong with you John!

            But here’s the real issue John, the fact that 85,000 UK workers in McDonalds are denied union representation and collective bargaining by a well-known anti-trade union employer is a scandal that needs fighting. You don’t fight it by inviting them to put out their propaganda at Labour conference as what message do you think that sends out about our commitment to trade unionism?

            As to the NUS, yes, it is currently dominated by anti-free speech eejits who the right wing media believe are on the left but they are nothing of the sort (they have even taken to attacking and ‘no platforming’ Peter Tatchell of all people recently which sums up their utter political bankruptcy). But these NUS people, including the new President, are not Labour members, and nor are they socialists – but here is the real scandal. The fact that these no platforming, safe spacing, jazz handing clowns are beating Labour Students in elections is a direct result of what the likes of Wes Streeting and others did to our reputation so that we were seen as right-wing bureaucratic and anti-democratic stitchers whose sole function was to incubate people to become useless and ineffective MPs after NUS (e.g, Stephen Twigg). Thankfully Momentum is turning that dreadful legacy around and hopefully as a result future NUS leaders will again be Labour Party supporters and members.

          2. John P Reid says:

            Whatever you think of McDonald’s and this article saying that it’s snobbery that’s stopped us having them at conference,you then call Guido scum, showing more snobbery, it was a factually correct article,do you have a problem with that, and I didn’t link the sun. Should Labour Party voters be banned from reading the sun..

            Labour should not have any interns, then

          3. Richard Tiffin says:

            I wonder if you would clarify for me why you consider the comment you linked to “worse” please? Worse than what and how? What in particular concerned you about the comment?

          4. john P Reid says:

            the attacks on streeting when he was NUS leader were a sign of miltants in the NUS throwing anti Semetic remarks,now the NUS leadership is anti semetic

    2. Karl Stewart says:

      He could have just said: “If delegates want a burger, there’s a great place at…” and just dialled down this non-story.

      Or he could have said: “I used to work for this firm, and our party wants to see them paying better wages and treating staff better.”

      But no, this red tory twat sees an opportunity to attack Corbyn and grovel to corporate business at the same time – what a prick.

  5. David Pavett says:

    I agree with Tony (above). The BBC and the Guardian report a Labour spokesperson as saying “We do not comment on commercial decisions.” That apparently is all we ordinary members are allowed to know.

    Why not? And in what sense was this a “commercial decision”?

    Secrecy, letting as few people as possible know what is going on and why, is one of the trump cards of the people who control the Labour Party apparatus. It is what has made massive manipulation possible. That is the big problem illustrated by the reaction to this relatively minor issue.

  6. Karl Stewart says:

    St George’s Day tomorrow – remember to celebrate it as we always do, by moaning about how we never celebrate St George’s Day!

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