Hardly a week goes by without Britain's supermarkets facing criticism for being too succesful, too big and destroying the tiny family stores consumers used to be beholden to. But the anti-supermarket ideology is little more than nostalgic humbug: the rise of the supermarket is a great British success story that should be celebrated, not bashed.
It was made possible by Sir Edward Heath, the late former prime minister. He scrapped ludicrous rules called Retail Price Maintenance, a left over from World War One re-embellished for World War Two. It stopped shops "profiteering" by allowing the supplier of chocolate biscuits, soap, sugar, baked beans or any other food line to stipulate the price on the shelves. It was "fair" so prices were identical in Aberdeen and Bristol.
Abolishing retail price maintenance created Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury, Waitrose and Morrison. By relaxing one stale regulation a great transformation became possible. Since then, supermarkets have led a cultural change that touches all of us every week and every day, and not only for groceries. The new freedom to trade allowed ventures such as Dixons, Comet and Currys to flourish too. Who now remembers most households could not afford to buy their black and white televisions? Renting was the norm.
The proportion of weekly income spent of food has tumbled from 34% in 1960 to 12% today. Even those figures miss much of the story: the diversity and choice now on offer would astonish the shopper of 40 years ago. The range of fruits and vegetables would baffle. What is an avocado? What is a passion fruit? I counted 44 different tinned soups on my last trip; in 1960, the choice was only tomato soup or chicken soup.
I am not saying everything is perfect in 2005. We still carry the monstrous burden of the Common Agricultural Policy. Food prices would fall by between a third and a half according to Which?, the consumer exponents, if we liberalised this failing policy.
It is a frustration that council planners are often hostile to new supermarkets and constrict development. The Town and Country Planning Act, a remnant of the enthusiasm for new controls of Clement Atlee's post-war government, awaits serious critiques. Every community experiences blight by planning.
Supermarkets buy in bulk - winning chunky discounts for their volume. They then ship these purchases to their archipelago of stores. They are getting ever more adroit at displaying their wares to tempt us. They also monitor our behaviour and preferences. It would be naive to say the shopper is supreme but it is true we are