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Thursday, December 3, 1998 Published at 16:08 GMT

UK Politics: Talking Politics

Have you seen the lights?

The lights in London this year

By BBC News Online's John Walton

The Christmas lights in London this year have something missing. There's no snow, no angels, no Santas. Instead the only thing up in lights is frozen food and fizzy drinks.

Seasonal goodwill seems to be missing from the picture entirely.

There no longer seems to be a battle between consumerism and peace on earth - commercialism has won hands down, perhaps making this year's lights appropriate after all.

But it could be worse. There could be no lights in London's west end.

[ image: Birds Eye's Christmas offering]
Birds Eye's Christmas offering
Sally Humphreys of the Oxford Street Association says that without Birds Eye agreeing to sponsor the lights at the last minute it would be dark in central London.

She told BBC News Online: "No Birds Eye, no lights."

A similar point was made by Westminster council who claimed that they only gave permission to have 'Tis the season to be tango'd' strung across Regent's Street as planning applications were in so late to refuse them would have left shoppers in the dark.

But doesn't Christmas come at the same time every year?

[ image: A light without a donor]
A light without a donor
There's a similar story going on all around the UK. In Newcastle Christmas is coming courtesy of Fairy Liquid, in Manchester it's Renault and in Glasgow it's Coca-Cola.

But Anna Walker, who as executive officer of the Regent's Street Association is responsible for Tango's lights, says she's had only one or two letters from the public saying: "I'm never going to have a can of Tango again."

She says: "'Tis the season' is quite a Christmassy message, but the fact that Tango want to put Tango all over it is typical Tango - all fun and games."

But she did acknowledge the lights were perhaps not as Christmassy as they could be.

"I had a sponsor in place who I considered slightly more appropriate than Tango.

"I'm not going to tell you who it was, but unfortunately when Blair made the last interest rate increase the foreign sponsor said: 'No, you'll be in the doldrums by Christmas time, we can't possibly put lights up in London.'

"So therefore I was desperate for a sponsor. And I went to Westminster [council] saying I only need a small sum of money to add to that which the retailers have given me and they said, 'No'."

She argues the cost of the Christmas lights are such that the shopkeepers can't bear it themselves and if the council won't help then there's no alternative to sponsorship.

Sally Humphreys agrees. And although she has received several complaints from the public over the Birds Eye lights she says if large companies, "are putting up large amounts of money for the lights they want their name up there big".

She adds that Birds Eye was only chosen after other sponsors were considered unsuitable, saying that with the time at their disposal nothing more discreet could be made.

But was it worth the effort? If the Christmas lights are nothing more than sparkling bill boards is there any point in having them?

What do you think? To send a message on any aspect of Christmas, the lights and sponsorship click here.

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