Image: Greggs, King Street in Hammersmith. WikiCommons.
Last month a young Labour Party member asked Jeremy Corbyn about his thoughts on nationalising essential public services such as Wetherspoons and Greggs. The room chortled, then applauded. Jeremy gave a scripted answer about Greggs being a living wage employer and quickly segued into an amicable stub speech about housing and energy. “Corbyn says that nationalising rail, mail and utilities are his priorities, but crucially did not rule out nationalising Greggs” said the official Young Labour Twitter account. Imminently, conservatives were in full blown moral panic; “they can't nationalise Greggs, it's a private company!” “What if they don't want to be nationalised?!?” “Keep your filthy socialist hands off our pasties” chimed a thousand Kremlin run social media accounts with EU/hammer and sickle flags as avatars.
Last week the plucky young sparks at Progress took a break from running the website of a faction-free-slate to pen an opinion piece about why nationalising Greggs is the Wrong Thing™ to do and young people can't be trusted to have their own in-jokes.
If Obama’s dream started as a whisper in Springfield, then the National Greggs Service (NGS) started as a jest in Sheffield. A single payer bakery, free at the point of use, how we laughed. In a few short months the NGS has already made waves. We’ve had endorsements from left wing high flyers such as Owen Jones, an opinion piece in the Independent bemoaning the pantomime level outrage from centrist dads across the country, and a Greggs loyalty app presumably spurred on by John McDonnell's Socialism with an iPad initiative. We've racked up thousands of likes and shares across social media, with post shares occasionally reaching into the millions - and we’ve permeated the discourse to the extent that we've warranted a several hundred-word article on Progress Online.
“Old hands moulding young minds!” cry the centrist dads. Evidently, Greggs has long been on the hitlist of militant Derek Hatton-era Trots, lying dormant until woken by a meme about Jeremy Corbyn being spotted on holiday in Greggs.
The team who keep the memes coming out of the oven over at NGS HQ are all young party members, active in campaigns and our local communities. The closest overlap between us and old hands being when your grandmother messages because they ran out of sausage and bean melts at Broadwalk Shopping Centre in Bristol. And of course, when Momentum supremo Jon Lansman Skypes in four times a day to ask how many likes our ‘Greggs hearts Corbyn’ scented Yankee candle post garnered.
The NGS deals in the currencies of hyperbole and absurdism (although apparently not always as much as official Greggs and their Jesus-as-sausage-roll Christmas marketing campaign).
The reason ‘#nationaliseGreggs’ resonates is because at its core is a long suppressed discussion about alternate forms of ownership, along with food poverty, hunger and universal basic services. When we live in a country where millions now rely on food banks, we need to address basic access to food. If holding that conversation in the form of pasties with slogans is what captures people's imagination, that's no bad way to get people thinking seriously about a more equitable future.
Just last week, young people being told that if only they cut down on their frivolous sandwich and lottery habits they’d be able to buy a house. When buying a houmous sandwich on the high street becomes the battle line in which the debate about how to fix generation rent is fought, no wonder the NGS has carved out a section of relevance in contemporary political discourse.
Public ownership is dead, and progressives need to look to the future - so we're told by the resident experts at a think tank given millions by Lord Sainsbury. Utilities being much better ran by companies charging consumers 12.5% annual increases on their bills. A health service beholden to PFI contracts seeing individual hospitals paying millions of pounds a year in interest. Bakeries run by profiteers who would charge 95p for a sausage roll.
This is not sustainable.
With Labour on the cusp of power, Progress are right in one sense that we need to look towards the future. The challenges of AI, automation and globalisation are going to fundamentally shift the way our society functions. They pose difficult questions about how we can help people live a meaningful life when machines have stolen their jobs, and ideas around Universal Basic Income and Universal Basic Services are coming to the fore in this discussion. These challenges necessitate the best minds in our movement coming together to build a nation for the many, not the few. There's nothing wrong with cracking a few jokes along the way, unless you're a centrist dad writing anonymously for Progress Online.