It is not uncommon for British prime ministers to call on the Blitz spirit when they want to appear statesmanlike, and David Cameron certainly evoked some Churchillian rhetoric last week.

It is not uncommon for British prime ministers to call on the Blitz spirit when they want to appear statesmanlike, and David Cameron certainly evoked some Churchillian rhetoric last week.

Considering minister for local government Brandon Lewis’ feeble excuses for the two-year delay in property valuations amounted to a two-fingered salute to retailers, it was maybe a little ill advised.

Perhaps even after questions in the House and desperate calls for a rethink of next year’s rates increases, he has failed to notice that he has effectively reversed his more famous predecessor’s hand gesture.

Cameron was right, though, that a battle is being fought for economic survival, and one battleground is the high streets. There, a thin red line made up of retailers and their staff struggles against overwhelming odds to stay afloat in a sea of rent sharks, rocketing rates and car park depth charges.

And there’s a fair bit of merchant tonnage being lost. Comet appears to be going down with all hands, and 3,673 other shops have already sunk this year. Those are tragic casualties that can’t be swept away with a bit of jingoistic tub-thumping.

We’re winning some battles, though. Navigating a course through convoys of high street battlecruisers, there’s a nimble flotilla of little ships demonstrating the Dunkirk spirit. Recent shop vacancy statistics suggest that, as major groups pull down the shutters, small entrepreneurial independents are filling the gaps and preventing a more rapid decline. But, in a flatlining economy, it is precisely these kinds of operations that are acutely vulnerable to increases in fixed costs.

Cameron also acknowledged the difficulties in coping with such variations in another speech, when he said that any increase in the EU budget was “not credible”.

We can only hope George Osborne will take the same view on next year’s £170m rates bill hike when it comes to his Autumn Statement.

If our war-weary Prime Minister is quite serious about his call to arms, he would do well to look after retailers as his most effective soldiers of fortune.

If I may borrow another quote from the great man himself: “Give us the tools and we’ll finish the job.”

  • Ian Middleton, Managing director and co-founder, Argenteus