A defence of Consumers’ passions

May I counter a number of unwarranted jibes in Tom O’Sullivan’s otherwise scrupulously fair portrait of the Consumers’ Association (“Shopper’s friend counters enemies”, MW February 10).

John Murphy of Interbrand must choose a new set of adjectives if he is to criticise us more effectively. Self-appointed? The Consumers’ Association? We have more than 800,000 members. If that does not qualify us to speak on behalf of consumers, then Murphy has no brief to speak for highly-vocal, enthusiastically partisan brand owners.

An outdated, moralistic tone? I’m not sure why we’re outdated – we’ve been around since 1957, but we’re bang up to date in research and campaigning. And to accuse us of moralism is daft – we’re out for the best for consumers.

To suggest we hold a “view of the world which is that of a self-righteous, left-wing Sainsbury’s shopper” will not endear Murphy to Sainsbury’s customers; it is also wildly off-beam. Self-righteous? No, but often right – our research is rigorous, and rigorously independent. Left wing? We are non-party political. Sainsbury’s? Well, I hesitate to counter each of Murphy’s misplaced jibes. That way madness lies.

Murphy did come off worst when he locked horns with the Consumers’ Association over the brand owners’ bid to ban consumer-friendly lookalikes. Sour grapes make passable vinegar but a poor diet – perhaps this accounts for Murphy’s tartness.

It’s on the theme of independence – or lack of it – that the piece’s undue emphasis falls. Our independence has never been successfully challenged. We accept no grants from the Government or anyone else. We accept no free samples, or free hospitality (we buy everything as a consumer would, except on a grander scale.) Our publications – Which? being the flagship- accept no advertising. In everything we are funded by our subscribers alone; the figures are all there in our annual reports. It is difficult to conceive how we could be more independent; few, if any, organisations of equal status in the UK today can boost similar self-reliance. It allows us to speak without fear or favour.

John Hosker

Deputy director

The Consumers’ Association

London NW1

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