There was something strange about Ed Miliband taking questions this week on his strained relationship with the trade unions while standing in an Asda.
It was odd to hear the Labour leader attempting to deflect criticism about his handling of the Falkirk selection row while barcode scanners bleeped in the background.
It could have been worse for Mr Miliband. At least one of his convoluted answers about the need for his party to re-engage with the needs of ordinary working families wasn’t interrupted by a booming request for all checkout-trained staff to make their way to the tills.
God knows what he was doing in an Asda on Monday. It’s unlikely the Labour leader was doing his weekly shop when he just happened to be tackled by a camera crew. He strikes me as more of a Waitrose man.
Perhaps Mr Miliband was trying to make some point about squeezed living standards by visiting a supermarket whose slogan is “saving you money every day.”
He’s going to need to pinch the pennies himself now that he’s alienated the unions, or as the right-wing press love to call them, his ‘paymasters’. They never seem to use the same language about the City fat cats who pay the Tories’ bills, but hey ho.
Mr Miliband has acknowledged that his plan to ask union members to opt in to funding the party, rather than having to opt out, will cost millions.
The GMB union – one of Labour’s three biggest backers – got the ball rolling last week by telling the party it was cutting next year’s contribution by the small matter of £1m.
So why has Mr Miliband decided that now is the time for such a costly change? Well, perhaps the Labour leader always wanted to alter the way his party was funded because of some deeply principled desire to win trade unionists’ active support rather than their passive agreement.
Strange then that he should wait until three years into his leadership before deciding the time was right to make the change.
And even more curious that Mr Miliband should announce the new policy at the precise moment that the Prime Minister and his tabloid attack dogs were hounding him over allegations that the Unite union had tried to rig the selection process in Falkirk.
In the intervening months both the police and the Labour Party have had a good hard look at what went on in the Scottish seat earlier this year.
Embarrassingly, it’s a case of “move along, nothing to see here” from both Pc Plod and the Proletarian’s Champion.
It turns out that whatever did go on in Falkirk it barely reached the level of what’s technically known as “shenanigans”. Yet over this tiny local difficulty, Mr Miliband is proposing to pauperise his own party.
Which is all very noble, but it does make me wonder if he’s realised there’s a thing called a General Election coming up in less than two years time. They are ruinously expensive things these days.
Mr Miliband may also have noticed that his party’s chief opponents in the 2015 poll have declined to follow Labour’s lead by hacking off a limb or two of their own.
You don’t see David Cameron heading over to the Confederation of British Industry’s annual conference to goad his paymasters into ripping up their cheques. It’s almost as if the Prime Minister wants to win the next General Election.
If Mr Miliband has his way an enfeebled Labour party with a tiny fraction of its former income will take on a Tory party whose coffers will be swelled with donations from those who paid the 50% top rate of income tax for a suspiciously short period.
Without significant union backing, Labour has only two options.
The first – irrelevance – may end up being achieved no matter what the party’s funding arrangements happen to be.
The second choice is to become a version of the US Democrats, forever dashing to the right to fight a fight it can never win – to prove it is even more “pro-business” than its conservative opponent.
Personally I’d rather have the status quo – shenanigans and all – than a future where all the money in politics is big business money.