Joan Brady, a previous winner of the Whitbread literary prize, writes:
Costa Coffee should keep out of book prizes – and town centres
In 1993 I became the first woman to win the Whitbread Prize, and it changed my life. Money! One winner blew it all on a swimming pool for the family’s French villa. Not me. Mine paid off my debts: there are few joys in life to beat clearing the slate.
I suppose I should have given some thought to where the money came from. I didn’t. The shortlist was awarded at the Whitbread brewery –which meant I could hardly avoid knowing it had something to do with beer – but how was I to know that Whitbread saw the whole excitement as just an advertising gimmick?
I liked the comment by scepticalhawkeye:
Most of us would have thought that the executives of a brewery at heart saw their life’s work as promoting English Literature.
Joan Brady appears upset that Whitbread has taken over the Costa Coffee chain, so instead of authors being given dosh by noble brewers they are getting it from effete caffeine-fiends. For a moment the flame of hope flickered within me that Ms Brady might be emulating the staunch heroes of of God Emperor of Didcot, in which mighty vows are made that never more shall the arm of the honest tea drinker be made limp by the latte of foreign oppressors! Alas, she just has a thing against Costa:
Costa is strong-arming its multinational way into small towns and villages all over Britain and plonking down its identical coffee shops even though local people in overwhelming numbers – from Southwold in East Anglia to Cottingham in Yorkshire to Totnes in Devon – make it clear they aren’t wanted.
I lived in Totnes for 30 years, and Totnes outdid itself. Three quarters of its population protested against Costa: Totnes already has more than 40 independent coffee shops. That many people agreeing on anything approaches a miracle, a landslide of public opinion. Costa isn’t bothered. It hasn’t bothered with the populations of other protesting towns either. But isn’t this supposed to be a democracy? Here’s a corporate giant flouting the fully expressed will of local people. And for what? To boost a profit margin that’ll go to build more coffee shops in Russia and Egypt – Costa’s largest is in Dubai – at the expense of UK shopkeepers.
As every second comment says, if local people in overwhelming numbers do not want Costa Coffee then Ms Brady’s problem will not persist long. Local people in overwhelming numbers won’t go there, and Costa will cut their losses and go.
In fact there is an issue worth discussing here. I cannot help wondering what Ms Brady would say if local people in overwhelming numbers expressed the view that they did not want immigrants of a different race, Egyptians for instance, setting up shop in their town and making a profit “at the expense of” UK shopkeepers. Would opposition to incomers on those grounds still count as the “fully expressed will of the people” and if not, why not? Isn’t this supposed to be a democracy? Perhaps if she reads the many pointed comments, the CiF crowd being on the right side for once, Ms Brady will be prompted to question the limits of majoritarianism.
Perhaps she will also be prompted to do as so many of the commenters suggest and send Whitbread / Costa back their money. Given that she thinks that only the involuntary contributions of taxpayers are pure enough to fund a literary prize, that would be the principled course of action.