House of Commons committees have become one of the great spectator sports of our age. This week saw yet another example of figures facing public derision being frog-marched up in front of MPs for a bit of a mauling.
Big Six energy bosses were the latest to endure one of these bruising encounters with MPs, which often have a touch of the Colosseum about them.
There may be no lions to be thrown to (the only big cats are the fat ones getting a grilling) but one cannot escape the impression that MPs are thirsting for blood.
The politicians are playing to an unseen audience, who, courtesy of 24-hour news bulletins, are sitting in front of the TV hoping that their elected representatives can land a killer blow as they bait their quarry.
So it was that various high-flyers with British Gas, E.ON, npower, ScottishPower, SSE and EDF were given a tongue-lashing for the 9 per cent bill increases, which have been inflicted on their hard-pressed consumers.
“Do you understand that the people of this country do not trust you? Whether you like it or not some people in my constituency have to worry about whether they are going to heat or eat,” was one line offered by John Robertson, MP for Glasgow North West.
The inadequate responses offered to such denunciation was enough even to make the blood boil of those with the misfortune to be shivering in front of the telly with their heating switched off.
In much the same way that those whose RBS shares tumbled in the crash found a strange fascination in observing Fred Goodwin’s clenched-teeth apology to MPs, there is some schadenfreude in observing the discomfort of those we perceive to be to blame for discomfort of our own.
As was all too apparent during Tuesday’s meeting of the energy and climate change committee, the anger and the hardship caused by the Big Six pricing policies has become the big political issue of the moment.
Ed Miliband has set the pace on this one by promising a price freeze, should Labour make it into power at the next general election.
The Conservatives have responded with yesterday’s promise to encourage competition between the suppliers by making it easier for consumers to switch.
And the issue played big at Holyrood’s First Minister’s Questions yesterday after the SNP announced its own plan to cut green taxes on Scottish bills at the recent party conference in Perth.
Meanwhile, the Big Six bosses will go back to their companies to reflect on a bruising parliamentary session and life in a political storm that has been largely of their own making.