15 JANUARY 1960, Page 29


Little Folks


tri 1, One of the few attractive things about them is the harmlessly one-eyed view of the news world they give. The National Newsagent and Bookseller bntions the YWCA murder—because the wntinghani Mail produced some thousands of news Posters to be carried around by police cars. xhe Honours List gets a mention when someone !1) the trade gets a decoration. Dr. Barbara Moore and her competitors got a write-up in the Shoe 'd Leather Record (and in the Sacking Weekly, ho, for all I know); and the Record also mentions RabbBE awarded to the composer Edmund ra—he was once an office boy in a shoe firm. i used to think that trade magazines relied on ce suffocating dullness of items like 'Chairman ,..°flgratulates Staff at Annual Tea-dance' to keep thwttY any but their own kind, but now I find 4/ they regularly send them to the national press, se'. I can only suppose that they have not the faintest idea what a give-away they are. Take this item, for instance, from the Grocers' kLitelte: 'Goodwill should be more than just Zowill to he sold at aprice when the business is"guges hands. Real friendship must be developed ,etween the shop's personnel and its customers if 07Plete success is to be achieved. It certainly e2s a retailer to take a genuine interest in the 'touter and her family.' Genuine. or' h. is word 'goodwill' needs a little explanation. ul„,RinallY. it means the feeling that prevents a bu-utner going to another shop where he can OfYi something better or cheaper; but by a process ef ,ransference it is taken to mean also the efforts thesu°Pkeepers to induce thisfeeling. Thus, again, peGrocers' Gazette urges the case for Sunday by fling (with which I am entirely in sympathy) vit1044Yillg: 'This would enable any shopkeeper believes in personal service to give it as an the °I.1. goodwill as and when he wishes.' Service. ■ Deulle man's weapon against the big man, is the of in syrupy celestial tones; price-cutting, ig man's weapon against the little man, in a ti%ea1, k's screech of condemnation : 'the vast and 4bitn'Y unfair competition in Britain . . . call it I do(lonment of Christian principles if you like.' twee, u't like, myself; but then I'd rather have 4teeu oil the beans than a grocer s remarks t lhe weather any day. The Drapers' Record recently carried some re- vealing quotations from the Retail Distributors' Association saying that existing consumer mechanisms for testing goods (presumably Which? and Shopper's Guide) are incomplete because they lack money. 'The difficulty,' they say, `could be surmounted if the organisations could look to manufacturers and retailers for a financial contribution. The RDA believes that the contribu- tions would readily be forthcoming: So would contributions to police pay from the Soho pro- curers, come to that; but does the RDA really expect anyone to believe that a body so financed would be the slightest use as an impartial tester?

A phrase which crops up repeatedly in these magazines is 'good for the trade.' But it has a limited application. A, reorganisation which brings cheaper goods to the public; a plan for cotton which would stand that moribund industry on its feet; a really creaseproof fabric: none of these would necessarily be hailed as 'good for the trade.' Not, that is, if the first encouraged ,people to buy in multiple stores, or the second made half a dozen crumbling firms put up their shutters, or the third meant that some older stocks of cloth had to be sold off at a loss. Good for the trade only means good for the immediate profits of existing traders.

The point of all this is not that the small traders are crooks, or that they have no place in the economy, or have no genuine grievances, or that, individually, they may not be admirable men. It is simply that, collectively, they are no less revolting than any other pressure group. There cannot be many uncommitted people left who believe in the ideal of the Worker, as represented by the trade unions; nor is Big Business something which little children are encouraged to remember in their prayers. But the myth of the Little Man linger& on—the little man, sturdy, honest, independent. Stephen Lister had the number of this little man; at the end of his book on advertising he tells how he fled the advertising world hoping to find some- thing better among the small traders. And he could not find one whose 'impartial' advice to a customer was not coloured by what he had in stock, or which manufacturer gave him the best credit terms. Anyone can bear him out who has heard the lofty '1 wouldn't touch it' of the retailer who doesn't yet happen to stock the product in ques- tion. Belief in the little man is an astounding act of faith when you consider that anyone who goes shopping, or has a burst pipe, or needs his win- dows cleaned, must know from experience how surly and unreliable the little man can be.

It seems to me naive to expect virtue in any block of interest, including this one : in so far as it is a block it will behave like a blockhead, when it isn't behaving like a villain. Which is one of the reasons why government must represent individual men, and never only a carefully bal- anced set of vested interests; however carefully the scales were balanced, they would still be the scales of rival serpents. We have never had a Poujade here, 1 admit, nation of shopkeepers though we still may be. But it need not be for- gotten that the cross-Channel equivalent of our cherished Small Trader was prepared to forgo (or was too stupid to see that he was saying he was prepared to forgo) all police, drainage, road main- tenance, hospitals and law courts just so long as he could keep all of his closely-hoarded profit. And the profit is not without too much honour, even in our own country.