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Britain, the nation of shopkeepers…

So both Napoleon and Adam Smith described Britain.

Not that one is making direct comparisons, but Tesco’s CEO Sir Terry Leahy described the company as just a “good shopkeer” on the BBC’s Today programme this morning.

He was trying to (or seemed to be expected to) justify their latest two billion pounds in profits, mostly from the UK market, to the Today programme. Sir Terry refused to accept that Tesco has an image problem in the UK. Odd.

Campaigners, who appear effective in garnering media attention and getting coverage of their books (Andrew Simms, a long time Tesco foe, has just published a new tome on Tesco), and campaigns, would disagree.

But our competition authorities and the government largely do not. The bottom line appears to be that regulators feel they should not be seen to penalise success.

So while Tesco has been pushed to be more environmentally friendly (or try to be, the climate labelling scheme may have stalled) and do more for farmers (milk payment rates), will its expansion be stopped by the NGOs and other groups opposed to its dominance?

Not likely, unless someone like the fearsome EU consumer and fair play champion Neelie Kroes gets involved. And that’s unlikely to happen – where would be any further evidence to consider?

Campaigners will have to get used to Tesco and remember that all empires eventually decline and fall in the end. Or perhaps more accurately in business terms, decline, split, diversify, re-brand, sell off and break up. Tesco is already called Fresh and Easy in the US…

Toby Webb, Editor

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