Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Huw Lewis Column

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Huw Lewis Column

Article excerpt

Byline: By Huw Lewis

The prospect of pounds 276 off the price of a sofa was last week enough to reduce an Ikea store to a war zone. What kind of country has this become where this is the case?

Had the riot which engulfed the furniture chain's latest branch taken place on the deprived outskirts of Sunderland or Newcastle national media coverage might have been underpinned by snobbery ( the suggestion that poor, thick northerners could be expected to behave no other way.

But this essay in how low we will stoop for consumer goods unfolded in a suburban corner of London. The store is just along the North circular from Enfield, where new Labour standard-bearer Stephen Twigg defeated Michael Portillo in 1997. The people in the queue were mainly office workers, civil servants, parents, latte-drinkers, four-by-four drivers.

This was middle England in battle. These are the voters Alan Milburn will be targeting, getting inside their heads, working out what makes them tick.

And for them, it seems, the line between self-interest and savagery is very thin.

In this case a queue had grown up during the day outside a new store opening at midnight, those in it hoping to bag one of 350 discounted leather sofas.

It was one of those very British experiences, like Wimbledon or the Last Night of the Proms, with staff handing out sandwiches and thermos flasks aplenty.

Then, just before midnight, a large number of queue-jumpers arrived, creating a panic that longed-for bargains would be snatched away. A riot ensued because both camps ( latte drinkers and gatecrashers alike - were prepared to stand their ground.

Why didn't more people just turn away? It is not a lot of money, pounds 276. Not if you already have a sofa. It's not much to be threatened with a mallet for, to grab a trolley from a fellow shopper, hoping your adversary will weaken first. Maybe it was the sniff of leather? Leather sofas are a symbol of affluence and quiet respectability, even if you acquired it only be flinging yourself over it screaming `mine, mine!' in the dead of night.

And pounds 276 is not much to a society that has run-up a trillion pounds in unsecured debt for previous sofas, lampstands, fitted kitchens and designer clothes torn in the stampede. …

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