Poll after poll, vox pop after vox pop and personal experience after personal experience tell us that the cost of living is the number one issue.
There are some things we can all do ourselves (spending only what we have); there are some things the government can do (keep interest rates down) but there are some things which remain outside the control of our government (the global oil price).
Sometimes, those three areas of control coincide – petrol prices is one place where they very much do. So we can all drive better, choose our routes more carefully and use public transport where it’s easy to do so; the government can choose to freeze the amount of tax it takes per litre of fuel (which it has done consistently since coming to office); and it can make sure that oil companies act responsibly and lawfully when setting the price we pay at the pumps.
PetrolPromise.com, the campaign led by Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow, has just published a revealing dossier, outlining how irresponsible oil companies take advantage of the ‘rocket and feather‘ approach – retail prices go up like a rocket when the global oil price rises, yet fall like a feather when they come down.
Yesterday, the Office of Fair Trading agreed to issue a “call for evidence”, to see whether they should investigate oil companies accused of price-fixing and market manipulation. More than 70 MPs are also now expected to debate this in Parliament next Thursday – and push it to a vote – insisting that the Office of Fair Trading and the Financial Services Authority look at this seriously.
No doubt some Conservatives will think they ought to feel uncomfortable aggressively pushing private companies about their corporate behaviour; after all, they have shareholders who will hold them to account – right? Well, that’s not the whole story. These oil companies are behaving in an anti-capitalist way. The allegation against them is that they have been acting as a cartel – that’s not a free market, that is corporatism. Just as in America and in Germany, the UK should investigate whether there have been market abuses. Despite the two year tax freeze in the UK, pump prices have continued to rise inexorably. The OFT investigation will hopefully provide us with an answer as to why.
One of the most important things that any government can do is stand up for its citizens, and help them to do the right thing.. Petrol prices contribute hugely to the two things that we know voters are really concerned about at the moment – the cost of living and fairness; oil companies can and should be held to account on both those counts.