A View From Middle England - Conservative with a slight libertarian touch - For Christian charity and traditional belief - Free Enterprise NOT Covert Corporatism

Monday, July 27, 2009

Asda in ID card row

In the 21st century we have become a nation of people who suspect the motives of others, more or less without thinking. A lot of this, I feel, is to be placed in the hands of New Labour, with their obsession with vetting and prying. Fifty years ago when I walked to the shops with my mother we would see a few people. Mostly our time was spent talking to the shopkeepers and saying hello to fellow customers. Shopkeepers were elert in those days to kids taking things, maybe the odd adult too. However, it appeared everyone looked out for each other. If someone did anything anti-social, it was pointed out - verbally - that it was not appreciated.

Today things have changed. When I go to the shops with my children I am aware of being "followed" by cameras. I am aware that I am spoken to as a potential credit card fraudster if the card machine fails to work properly. It's never the store's problem. I once told the assistant that bar codes were not infallible due to slapdash computer entries (by humans!). She looked bewildered. We live in a country where we have become a commodity. We are just there to boost the turnover of big business. Customer service sometimes falls to the level of "Computer says no!" and we are given a blank look. I'm sure this is because we Brits do not have the stomach to organise ourselves. We have become too individualistic and have allowed "the system" to take control. If we had some organisational flair, we could have proper consumer advocacy, we could have proper shareholder involvement, and we could have proper accountability at elections.

However, we have through our own malaise (look at the majority stay-at-home voters in Norwich North) allowed government and the corporate world to move us about like a tray of biscuits. So it is no surprise that a man walks into his local Asda and is prevented from buying a bottle of wine because he was with his 15-year-old daughter. He was told he could not be served the alcohol unless she had ID to prove her age. Asda claimed they were "erring on the side of caution in line with national guidelines". What this proves is that the system comes first. There is an underlying nonsense to all this.

First, Mark Brown, the man in question, has had his personal integrity impugned by Asda. Through these "national guidelines" it has been insinuated that he was buying the wine to give to his daughter to consume. Or possibly for her to give to her friends. Mr.Brown protested that the wine for for him. He did well to stand up for himself.

Then there is the demand that Miss Brown should be walking around with ID to prove her age on request by a store. She was not buying alcohol. Even without ID, Asda would have been within their rights to refuse a sale to her. After all, at her her age she would hardly fit the bill of a wine buyer according to the "national guidelines". But she wasn't attempting to buy alcohol. If she had had ID on her, and it showed she was 15 years old, what then? The inference is that Mr.Brown would have got his wine, because Asda made the stand on selling the wine if the ID was produced. Unless of course that part of this tale is wrong. So ID is demanded even if you do not want to buy something. Surely this is an infringement of personal liberty?

I bought a bottle of sherry with my son by my side. He is seven. I suppose that was OK. However, the assistant told me that age is always asked if the store "thinks" you look under 25. Mostly this never happens. What does happen is that an under-age assistant gets the red light when alcohol goes through bar code system. They then press a button, bells ring, they make eye contact with a supervisor, wave the bottle in the air and the supervisor nods approvingly. This gets round "the system" conveniently. I wonder what age the child has to be in order for an adult to be allowed to buy alcohol whilst accompanying a child?

Richard Dodd, of the British Retail Consortium, rather pompously said of the Asda event, "I think parents should actually be reassured to see retailers being so rigorous in their determination not to sell alcohol to under-18s." Mr.Dodd, get a grip! The young girl was NOT buying alcohol. Her father was. If this sort of customer service is advocated by the British Retail Consortium, then Heaven help us all.


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