Beat the neighbours and save energy, say Tories

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Keeping up with the Joneses – the old-fashioned habit of not letting your neighbours get one over on you– is being resurrected as a feature of Conservative environment policy.

Under a Tory government, all electricity and gas bills will have information that allows householders to see what their neighbours are spending on energy – with the hope that this will encourage them to save energy themselves.

The Tory leader, David Cameron, disclosed the idea as one of several policy initiatives in a speech to environmentalists, in which he insisted that the UK had to continue to "go green" in the face of rises in oil prices and the cost of living. The Conservatives would not drop their environmental agenda because of the economic downtown, he said, but neither would they neglect increasing financial pressures on people.

Mr Cameron pledged that no new coal-fired power stations would be allowed in Britain without action to limit their emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). This would be done by fixing legal emissions standards for coal plants, to ensure they cannot emit more than a modern gas plant. This is intended to drive the introduction of carbon capture and storage technology, which will bury CO2 emitted from power stations underground.

Explaining his putting-the-neighbours-on-your-gas-bill plan, Mr Cameron said it originated in a piece of sociological theory called "positive social norms", which indicated that people often changed their behaviour by copying their neighbours. Under the plan, electricity and gas bills would show "what a typical house in your street is spending", he said, intended to make householders think about their own expenditure and how it could be brought down.

"It's an obvious piece of psychology," he said. "It seems to me a non-bossy, non-interventionist ... way of just nudging behaviour in the right direction."