Nobody doubts hard political choices will have to be made to cope with the costs of the banking crisis and recession, but VAT on food should not be among them.

It is more than a decade since Labour veteran John Prescott famously declared that “we’re all middle class now”.

In the intervening years of Labour government you only need to look at the food retail sector for plentiful evidence of the democratisation of products that would once have been the preserve of the few.

Dishes and ingredients that might typically have graced the Blair and Brown menu at Granita have become part of the British diet as grocers’ innovation and efficiency put them on family dinner tables from north to south.

But the success of food retailers, and all the initiatives they staged that clicked with the political and social trends of the times - whether opening shops in so-called food deserts or the promotion of five-a-day healthy eating - doesn’t seem to have made them much more popular in Westminster.

Last weekend it emerged that the imposition of VAT on food after the general election was being considered. Such a measure would be a punch on the nose for supermarkets, who have done so much to improve ordinary people’s quality of life and, as big creators of wealth and jobs, should be supported not stymied.

Grocers have been chivvied for years to be model corporate citizens - to help the fight against obesity, to sell alcohol responsibly, to cut their carbon footprint. But it seems making good food more accessible is deemed unworthy of support.

VAT on food would likely undermine food sales volumes as hard-pressed consumers keep a closer eye on every penny of spending. It would prompt many shoppers - especially the poorest - to buy on price alone, undermining wider considerations such as nutritional value.

There would also be a psychological left-hook to the retail industry more widely. Conscious of the higher prices of life’s everyday essentials, shoppers would be more reluctant to spend in general merchandise stores, many of whom are already resigned to an unwelcome VAT rise to 20% after polling day.

Nobody doubts hard political choices will have to be made to cope with the costs of the banking crisis and recession, but VAT on food should not be among them.

The hullaballoo that followed the suggestion that VAT might be levied on food now makes it more unlikely - the main parties swiftly distanced themselves from the idea and an about-face would be politically difficult.

But the fact it was considered shows the stores sector is still badly in need of more friends in Westminster.