WE LIVE in an age where supermarket politics seem to prevail, according to one Sunday newspaper.

This notion appeals and is worth investigating. With an election looming all the main parties are stocking their aisles with unbeatable offers and cheap inducements.

It's easy, for example, to see Tony Blair, prime manager of Labco, the most successful supermarket, telling us that "every little helps" as he beams his salesman's smile and tells us why the New Labour brand still offers the best all-round value.

While Mr Blair, guaranteed free of socialist additives, is speaking there is a distraction somewhere just a little to the left of where he is standing.

The chief accountant of Labco, Gordon Brown, is showing off after his annual budget - and make no mistake, it was his budget: that bothersome Blair didn't have anything to do with it.

For some reason, after announcing the ins and outs of this season's offers, Mr Brown has turned away from his customers. Bending forward a little, he raises his bottom towards us and gives his back pocket a cheeky tap, ASDA style.

Over the road, two rival supermarkets are busy luring custom. Michael Howard, the boss of Tories'R'Us, is pleased with himself. Trade had been dreadful for years until Mr Howard hired an Australian expert in the low arts of supermarket psychology, who has been treating this old dog to all sorts of new tricks. If some of them are a little underhand, well, that's just supermarkets/politics for you.

Mr Howard has been running a series of successful bargains, chalking up offers on the large blackboard outside his store. He was particularly pleased with his promotion offering two nasty policies for the price of one.

The anti-immigration offer went down well the other week, and now the kick-out-a-gipsy promotion has caused a stir among shoppers too, especially those with the red faces and the gin noses.

As for his pledge to knock millions off the price of everything, without harming the business in the slightest, that certainly showed Mr Blair over the road a thing or two. A shadow passes across Mr Howard's face at this moment. He has had that troubling thought again, the one about there being nothing at all in the storeroom to back up his colourful offers.

Still, he shakes it away. There is no point in worrying about these minor details at such important times.

Two doors down from Tories'R'Us, there is another store, Liberality, run by Charles Kennedy. An affable sort, he used to be a regular in the Westminster Arms down the road. He tries to keep away these days, because it doesn't fit with his smart new image.

Besides, that Howard fellow is down there all the time. He's always talking to the rancid types who prop up the bar and then writing what they say -"Send 'em all back, flog the lot of 'em" - into his little black book before popping back to his store and writing up this week's offer/policy.

Liberality has always done a good line in organic policies. Everybody was after a bit of the organic politics market these days, but Liberality had been there from the start, when half the shoppers used to wear sandals with walking socks. They never sold much in the way of razor blades back then, but nowadays they fly off the shelf.

Charles sneaks to the back of his shop for a clandestine fag. He's meant to have given up and knows the cigarettes don't really go with the organic image. Still, he's been worrying again about whether or not he can ever win the price war with the other two, and so he needs the nicotine relief.

This little fancy of mine may leave you feeling uneasy about the way in which politicians sell themselves and their policies like so many four-packs of baked beans. And so it should.

Wouldn't it be refreshing to witness some honesty in politics, to see policies designed from principle and belief, rather than piled up and sold cheap in a rampant rush to grab a vote? Perhaps politicians could even try to lead, rather follow the cheap scent of easy prejudice.

Mind you, that might be asking a lot.

Updated: 08:50 Thursday, March 24, 2005