05 January 2008

Power tends to corrupt

As so often in Ireland the bad weather lasted only one day. When I went out this morning for my usual round of Jogging it was not only calm and dry, there was actually bright sunshine and a clear blue sky with not a single cloud to see. Such is always a joyful experience and makes my morning exercise even more successful.

However, there hangs a cloud of thought over this part of the world, which results from an event that made the news yesterday and continues to be discussed on the British airwaves.
On one of the coldest and most miserable days of the year, one of the largest suppliers of energy in Britain, called N-Power (these days large companies have ever more anonymous and meaningless names), announced an increase in consumer prices for electricity and gas of more than 17% on average (and up to 27% in certain areas).
This came only a few days after Britain's railway companies (all private now, after the last Conservative government broke up the well-functioning national railway group British Rail and fragmented it in the most ridiculous and shambolic way) raised the prices for their tickets by 4.8% on average (and up to 8.7% for certain fares).

Consumer groups have issued statements of protest, there are interviews on the BBC, and a couple of politicians did raise the question of need, fairness and even legality. But this is as far as such things go. No one, and certainly not the British government (always the capitalists' best friend), will stop N-Power from charging ordinary British consumers until they bleed dry. For large industrial customers there are of course the so-called "heavy user tariffs", which means that those who use a lot of energy are getting it cheap, while those who use a normal or small amount are massively overcharged for it.
This happens despite a growing general awareness of global warming, carbon footprints and energy misuse. And despite a clear statement of Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown that the UK would be reducing the amount of energy used, in order to make a real contribution to save the planet.

Well, maybe this is what is really behind the announcement. People are beginning to understand the environment and save energy, so big utility companies like N-Power (which is, by the way, now owned by the large German energy group RWE) make less money from selling energy. And to compensate for the losses by volume they are now raising the prices per unit.
There is absolute no proper reason or justification for such a drastic increase in energy prices, several times the rate of inflation! But who is going to stop it? These days all British utility companies are completely privatised and care a lot more for their share holders and directors than for customers. They are like the industry's private herd of cows, to be milked as much and as often as it pleases the bosses. Ordinary people have no rights, and no ways to avoid this shameless exploitation of truly Victorian dimensions.

We all need electricity, as it is practically impossible to live and function without it. So the likes of N-Power have consumers over a barrel, in particular as no politician or regulator will come to their aid. All people can do is pay and pay, and should they run out of money, the energy companies will disconnect them and - to add insult to injury - even charge a hefty extra fee for doing that!

Here in Ireland things are not much better, and the price for electricity rises and rises just as our main national supplier ESB (still partly controlled by the government, but partly in private hands now as well) pleases. Subsequently Ireland has one of the highest energy prices in Europe, which makes life for ordinary people increasingly difficult and has even already some negative influence on the growth of our national economy.

What kind of world have we created for us and our children? Is this really how we want to live in the 21st century?! Handing the control over our lives to governments, police, intelligence services and greedy private utility companies? Where are our Human and Civil Rights? And where is the Common Sense that is supposed to guide society?

Lord Acton, the great British historian and author of many well-known quotations, would be livid if he were still alive. Yesterday, when I heard of the shameless greed of N-Power, I thought immediately of one of his most famous statements, which he made 120 years ago in a letter to Bishop Creighton. It is so fitting that it could be the motto of the privatised energy industry, and especially of N-Power.
"Power tends to corrupt," Lord Acton wrote, "and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

With this I rest my case, and remain for today

The Emerald Islander


Alexander "Sunny" Bergen said...

Bravo! You are not only a historian, but a man with exceptionally clear views and opinions.
I agree with everything you write about the utility (and especially energy) companies. They should never have been privatised, and by doing so the politicians have actually stolen property from the people, as national power companies belonged to all the people of a nation.
We are ruled by crooks, and exploited by their friends in the big industries. I wonder if there is still some hope left for a free and fair society...


Thank you for more kind words. You are quite right, privatisation of the public utility services was and is a big mistake.
Not to mention the fact that those politicians who do or did it were not the owners of those industries, only their caretakers. They owners were the people, and they were robbed of their common wealth.

But I do still have some hope for a free and fair society. Otherwise I would not carry on with my work and not writing here every day.

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