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On the High Street - Mary Portas: Friend or Foe?

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So Mary Portas's review of the high street has made its (budget) catwalk debut. There's talk of this leading to the creation of a 'minister for shops'. David Cameron - consider this my application. Finally a position where endless hours spent perusing the rails at Zara can be justified as research.

But undoubtedly this holy grail of jobs, the shopaholic's dream, will go to someone absurd like Eric Pickles or worse Nadine Dorries ('she's female - she must understand clothes') who probably haven't stepped foot in a shop that wasn't Marks and Spencer or Millets since 1975. The kind of people who think that Acne is just a skin condition and Opening Ceremony is what happens at the start of Songs of Praise. Poor Britain. Poor high street.

The government does seem to have strange taste when it comes to picking people to "save" the high street. Unsurprising really, given their record of bizarre appointments, my favourite being Philip Green to advise on how to save government spending - the answer presumably tax evasion. The pictures of David Cameron and Mary Portas striding around Camden this week as if that's where they'd always belonged, rather than in Fulham drinking elderflower cordial and listening to Radio 4, troubled me. I mean Portas? Really?

I know I'm slow on the uptake here - she was appointed as an independent reviewer in May - but lets take a moment to consider this, openly and honestly. What in heaven's name is Portas, with her extensive knowledge of window-displays and TV presenting, going to be able to do to "save" the high street? She may have many talents, including a gravity-defying Lego-man bob, but I'm pretty sure that no matter how much effort she puts into revamping the New Look changing rooms she's not going to be able to singlehandedly waft away the recession and solve poverty and unemployment - because that's what it's really going to take to help the high street.

People aren't avoiding spending because someone was rude to them in Primark, or because they don't like the feng shui of Debenhams. They're avoiding it because - and as a seasoned shopper I speak from the heart - they are skint.

I have nothing against Portas in principle. She's my favourite kind of woman - smart, fearsome, and if some of her sartorial choices are anything to go by, completely insane. But what I find most alarming about her review is it just seems full of contradictions. She was meant to be fashion's knight in shining armour, a champion of British-bred clothing, but now she's hell bent on getting rid of half our stores. What a U-turn.

She used to love the high street, creating a collection to be sold in House of Fraser and helping to revamp hundreds of small struggling boutiques, but now she's its worst enemy, dubbing poor, unassuming WH Smith a 'dump' - I mean what was she expecting, leather-bound copies of Katie Price's autobiography?

She's now arguing that; "we have thousands too many shops. They will have to close and do other things" - hardly a bastion of support for British business. She is trying to help high street stores survive by, um, telling them to close down. Isn't that what they are already doing? Isn't that the problem?

Poor shop owners. They've spent the last few years listening to Portas tell them to improve their service, spice up their stock and redecorate on her Mary Queen of Shops TV programme. I'm not sure that they'll be too happy now she's proposing they just give up. She's advising that stores be turned into gyms, crèches, youth clubs, coffee bars and community town halls. Right. Well - that's probably more of a 'revamp' than they were expecting. It's not really championing British fashion to demand that boutiques start minding children and selling caramel macchiatos rather than actual clothes.

Just like the advertisements bombarding the fashion addicts who trudge the streets of Britain, Mary and this review are giving ever-changing, mixed messages. One season it's leopard prints, the next it's neutrals. One minute the problem's layout and individual staff behaviour, the next it's the rise of e-retail and supermarket monopolies. One minute it's platforms, the next it's kitten heels. One minute it's save our shops, the next it's close them. So what will be the future for Portas's review and the high street? Well, to be honest, it doesn't matter; in a few weeks it will all be so last season.

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