IN AUSTERITY Britain, it should come as no surprise that the cost of living has emerged as a key political battleground. Yet it is only now that the UK political parties’ strategies on protecting household finances are becoming clear.
Energy prices will not be the only area where this political fight will take place, but it is the first in which the parties can be seen drawing up their battle lines.
Labour and the Tories are fighting for the role of being the people’s champion, on the side of the little man and the little woman in the face of inflation-busting price rises imposed by the big six energy firms, the most recent of which have been between 8.2 and 11.1 per cent.
Ed Miliband was first into the fray with Labour’s plan for a price freeze on energy bills. And yesterday, former prime minister Sir John Major gave a hint of future Conservative Party thinking when he floated the idea of a windfall tax on the energy companies.
The suspicion in Westminster is that Sir John was acting on Downing Street’s behalf when he suggested at a lunch for political correspondents that the government would have to intervene this winter if a cold snap resulted in bumper profits for the energy giants.
No 10 gave this idea a suspiciously warm welcome, and although it is still a long way from being government policy, ministers and party bosses will be watching closely how the energy companies and various pressure groups respond to the idea.
Prime Minister David Cameron certainly needs something to counter Mr Miliband’s wheeze. And being in government he has the ability to steal a march on Labour and act on energy prices before a vote is cast in the general election. Come polling day, Labour promises may be less effective if they are up against a Tory-led government that has already taken practical action against the big six.
What is in no doubt is the need for reform in the energy market. This was perfectly illustrated yesterday by the move to crack down on a cynical con involving “fixed-price” tariffs. These, it seems, were not fixed at all, and energy companies had been switching them to other – inevitably higher – tariffs.
MPs on the energy and climate change committee of the House of Commons have called energy company bosses to give evidence to a hearing next month. This is welcome news.
In recent months and years, senior bankers and senior media bosses have quite rightly been hauled in front of Commons committees and been forced to defend their practices in public. This is democracy in action.
While such events can sometimes be hijacked by MPs pursuing their own agendas, it is about time those in charge of the big six were grilled on their business models, and in particular how they balance prices and profit. In this new political battleground, the heat is being turned up.
Time for Facebook to grow up
FACEBOOK, in addition to being a social network for sharing pictures of cats and summer holidays, is also one of the world’s biggest disseminators of news. Regardless of whether it sources the news itself or simply distributes it, it is to all intents and purposes an international news organisation. It is time it started acting like one.
The bosses of Facebook have decided that some content is permissible and some is not. Pornography or nudity, for example, is not permitted and the organisation goes to great lengths to eradicate it from the site. But the rules on what is allowed have not kept pace with Facebook’s rapid evolution.
The rules are based on the flawed assumption that Facebook will primarily be used for the sharing of personal information. They are not designed to apply to Facebook as it exists today – namely, one of the world’s biggest means of distributing news, comment and propaganda, whether it comes from respected news sources, corporations, political parties or groups supporting international terror.
In this context, Facebook finds itself allowing videos of people being beheaded – albeit with a warning label – but bans pictures of a woman breastfeeding a baby.
This position is plainly unsustainable. Facebook’s guidelines must be updated, and it must start seeing itself as a publisher that owes a duty of care to its readers.
No-one is in any doubt that Facebook’s role as a distributor of news and information is one of the keys to its multibillion dollar success as a corporation.
If it wants to operate in this market, its bosses need to accept that with these opportunities come responsibilities.