If I had begun this column with an account of my recent battle with a company that - allegedly - installs dishwashers, you may well have thought that this isn't the place for one woman's consumer rant. And you'd be right, so I'll save it for a piece of Beckettian performance art.
Our powerlessness in the face of shoddy mobile phone operators, computer repair hotlines and insurance companies is compounded by the prevailing myth that consumers enjoy tremendous clout. The consumer rights bill making its way through parliament adds to the sense that if companies don't give us what we want, we will walk.
In the heady atmosphere of cyberutopianism, it's easy to imagine that we can all be like
In the depths of dishwasher doldrums, I Googled the offending company and found dozens of messageboard threads, little atomised cul-de-sacs of outrage, all going nowhere. When we're down our rabbit holes of call-centre hell, we're mostly on our own.
So I was cheered by a report this month from Which? on the big six energy firms, which revealed that they received more than 5.5m complaints last year. Which? - founded in 1957 in a converted garage in Bethnal Green, east
The left and right alike promote the same fantasy of bottom-up people power, whereas what we really need are regulators with teeth to implement the results of expert testing. Capitalism pretends it's a bustling marketplace with plucky little entrepreneurs, jostling for your precious pound. The exaggeration of consumer power reinforces this fiction. The reality is the cartel and the monopoly. Capitalism is too embarrassed to admit that regulation doesn't stifle competition, it enables it.
The coalition is forever claiming that real power is wielded not by big corporations but by big government. When it replaced the
If we put our faith in "digital democracy" and ignore the removal of statutory protections, we will end up as disempowered consumers, not citizens at all. A survey this month that found almost 40% of a large sample of food wasn't what it claimed to be was revealed not through a crowdsourced
If the seething rage of a million consumers, the expertise of Which? and the aggregating potential of the internet were combined, it would produce a formidable force. I'm thinking
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