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Friday, 20 February 2015

The Bishops and the Gas Bill

The bishops of the Church of England have gently pointed out that there is a great gulf between the 'political class' and their supposed constituents, and that this may be greater than ever.

When most politicians were from the landed classes they necessarily mixed every day with dozens of servants, from whom they would receive many home truths. In the glory days of the Labour Party almost all of those who became MPs had been hands-on workers and often long-serving trade union officials: the minority of intellectuals in the party were constantly reminded that their constituents were honest sons and daughters of toil, and even when they became ministers this lesson was constantly reinforced. Almost all of this has gone: few Tories ride every day, few Labour MPs live permanently in terraced houses exposed to neighbourly contact [though a few have - rarely occupied - such properties as part of their propaganda facade]. The politicians who have waxed comfortably over the past couple of decades are more remote from 'hard-working families' than any who have gone before them.

The Scots have found their own solution to the problem; and how that works out in the next parliament will be fascinating. I think the English and Welsh can consider that exception remote from their own options; though it will influence what is possible very considerably. My acquaintance are almost uniformly of the view that UKIP will take votes but not seats, but that may be enough to upset the statistical predictors. The next government will be Conservative or Labour and its members will be no less isolated from the mass of those whom they purport to serve,

My little book, Rottenomics: Replacing Economics, is available on Amazon [and will shortly be on Kindle]. Its opening paragraphs make exactly the same point as the Bishops make, with an important difference. I go on to say that a major factor in the alienation of politicians from people is the politicians' adherence to absurd economic propositions. This has superbly been illustrated this week.

The Competition and Markets Commission has been considering household energy bills, and has found that millions of people have 'lost' hundreds of pounds by not shopping around and switching their supplier, The clever Economics graduates who now work for sectoral regulators as 'regulatory economists' have a mission to compel the participants in markets to behave as their textbooks say participants in the economy should behave, thus to create an 'efficient market'. Most consumers take the view that they pay for regulators to control the market and ensure that suppliers treat customers fairly: so why should people spend many hours trying to understand deliberately obfuscatory billing and pricing systems, then venture into an alien world of websites in search of a supposedly better deal. They have to take the site and the information that it gives to them as being entirely objective and personally relevant. Millions lack the confidence to go down that route, and hundreds of thousands do not have the competence to do so. And why should they bother, if there is a regulator? Is it the task of the regulator to ensure that fair [lowest possible] prices are charged, or - as now seems to be the case - is it their role to force hard-working householders and deserving pensioners to jump through hoops so that their behaviour conforms to a nineteenth-century fantasy about 'competition'? I know what most people would prefer. That is their choice: so why not facilitate it rather than frustrate it?

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