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Energy firms – the quest for a knight

A poll on attitudes to the behaviour of big energy companies runs absolutely counter to the dominant political narrative. So what wins out?

You know the argument – the reason why we should be happy to simply close our eyes and be grateful as we are turned-over by big energy companies is because we have choice. Our ability to choose which one of six big energy companies is over-charging us for our electricity and gas is the ‘democratic market mechanism’ for ensuring justice is achieved. Shop around – the power is in your hands.

Except a Compas poll today shows that more-or-less no-one believes this. More than 70 per cent of the population thinks there should be a major investigation into the practices of the Big Six energy companies. I can only assume that the other 30 per cent are either didn’t listen to the question properly or assumed that resistance would be futile.

Power is an absolute essential in the modern world – like food, water and shelter. But rather than being an actual market (damaging as it is in many ways, at least the ferocious market in food has actually driven down prices to an extent) it is a monopolistic cartel.  Almost all of us know this – we are not idiots and can see that prices go up when there is an excuse but don’t come back down when that excuse recedes. We know the profits being made. This is the perfect example of risk-free, too-big-to-fail capitalism that knows no real market restraint.

The question is, what will happen in this clash between what we all know and what our Free Market political overlords tell us? That the popular media has long since peeled away from the dominant political dogma on this one is telling – the popular media drags its readers along as far as it can (ideologically speaking) but will reverse course and instead follow its readers’ views and opinions when they become too strong. And where the popular media goes, even free market ideologues will soon find themselves going.

We can assume one of two things will happen.Either the view will escalate that this is a national disgrace and Something Must Be Done, or Cameron and his gang will realise that the public need some sense of the release of anger. I suspect I know which it will be.

And so, is there a chief executive of an energy company whose knighthood we could take back? Or perhaps we could just reinstitute the stocks for energy bosses. Just as long as nothing real changes…

Robin McAlpine