Thursday, 31 July 2008

Easy on the cash pedal

Galloping price rises - here comes another one!

Hikes in petrol prices over recent months gave rise to a new term, cash pedal: a stark reminder of the link between "flooring it" and the money speeding straight out of your wallet.

Coming next: a cash meter under the stairs? Quite possibly, or better still, out on view in your living room. The new generation of electricity meters (sadly not available for gas) will have an easy-read display, showing exactly how much money you are spending. This will have the same effect as those whizzing numbers on the petrol pump as you watch the cost rack up. Enough to make you turn a few lights off and take the tv off standby, for starters. Add-ons such as the Electrisave have been available for some time, but the Lib Dems are proposing that "smart meters" will eventually replace the old "dumb" meters which simply monitor the amount of energy used. Energywatch produced a report three years ago which showed that smart meters can influence consumers to use less energy, as they clearly demonstrate the cost in an immediate way. So smart meters would have the double advantage of helping customers to budget as well as becoming efficient in their energy consumption.

So the news that British Gas customers are to see their bills rise by over a third has been met with concern by charities and consumer groups. This is the largest ever increase announced by the company, and it comes at a time when Centrica (parent company of British Gas) is announcing profits of £880 million for the first half of this year.) And all this at a time when average household energy bills are topping £1000 per year.

According to the Lib Dem paper, Tackling Fuel Poverty, published on Monday, "Five million often vulnerable people use prepayment tariffs to pay for their electricity and gas. A vulnerable household is defined as including people who are elderly, disabled and chronically sick, or with young children." Prepayment tariffs are much higher, and grossly unfair for the groups who use them.

Timely as ever, Vince Cable writes in today's Independent, insisting that costs should not be passed on to customers. He outlines our plans, which would be delivered "under the watchful eye of the energy regulator." These involve a combination of smart meters, fairer tariffs and improved energy efficiency.

(For practical information on domestic energy efficiency, I can recommend a visit to the Eco House in the London Borough of Camden. It's a retrofitted Victorian house, owned by the Council, which will achieve an 80% reduction in carbon emissions through various technologies. I met Liberal Democrat Councillor Alexis Rowell on Sunday as he showed visitors round the house. He even pulled a removable section out of a wall, to show the depth of the insulation foam!)

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Conservatives: Nasty party? Naughty party? Newspaper-polling party?

Just came across two different newspaper polls which relate to public perceptions of the Tories.

Thanks to Alex Folkes and Adrian Sanders for pointing out this one: Tory supporters have been encouraged to rig an online poll by the Western Morning News this week. The question posed was "Would a David Cameron Government be good or bad for the Westcountry?" An email was allegedly sent to 76 Tory constituency and councillor addresses across the West Country asking supporters to "push the percentage the right way."

Also, Monday's Independent had another poll about the Tories. Now, as it was by ComRes you'd hope it was statistically more robust. However, the results do expose voters' uncertainty about the Conservative policy vacuum.

While 46% of respondents agreed that "David Cameron is ready to be Prime Minister", 48% of people (and 25% of Tory supporters) agreed that they "don't have enough clear policies for me to understand what they stand for".

Obviously a valuable opportunity for the Lib Dems, because we do have clear policies, plus a renewed enthusiasm for showcasing them (See Make it Happen and Nick Clegg's summer message)

Andrew Grice's write-up of the poll in the Independent contains the baffling paragraph that "Significantly, more than half of Labour supporters (51 per cent) agree the Tories are no longer "nasty", as do 57 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters. But 34 per cent of those who intend to support the Tories think the party is still "nasty". "

Furthermore in his "Operation Love Bomb" post at IndyBlogs Grice is over-extrapolating somewhat when he says that "Cameron is winning over natural LibDem supporters."

Sure, he's right when he says, "although they do want to know more about Tory policies." Just because they're not universally thought of as nasty, it doesn't exactly make them the ideal prospect for government.

Disclaimer - statistically un-representative straw poll:

So what do Lib Dems (and their natural supporters) think of the Tories? Nasty party? Naughty party? Or more like, "Nyah party". Does nastiness matter any more? Is it just "any port in a storm" now for voters used to the old red/blue electoral ping pong? ('Scuse the mixed metaphors, there, but you get my point.)

Suggestions in the comments below. And no, they don't have to begin with "n". But would be good to keep them clean.

After all, we're still the Nice Party, aren't we?