No wonder most of the electorate despises politicians. Responding to the current mood, our sister paper has launched a campaign to encourage a wider range of people to enter Parliament. The latest Big Idea to save the ailing economy demonstrates our leaders' limited experience of the real world, their narrow range of cultural and social references.
The idea that bankrupt Britain can be galvanised by sanctioning thousands of new home extensions is so daft it's touching. David Cameron erroneously believes that the British building industry is being held back by restrictive planning laws which, if relaxed, would lead to a massive boom in house-building. If planners couldn't interfere and impose restrictions, millions of "aspirational" voters will double the size of their living rooms, concrete over the lawn and vote Tory in the next election.
The truth is, the building industry is sitting on a huge bank of land, most of which already has planning permission. One of the reasons developers are building few houses is because the public can't sell the homes it already has and the cost of arranging mortgages has soared, with the fees 70 per cent higher than four years ago. Outside London, house prices have dropped by up to 20 per cent since 2007: people can't afford to move. Over 80 per cent of residential planning applications were approved between April and the end of August this year. One third are in the South-east, where demand is greatest, so why the need to relax planning law even more?
Planners have their faults, but indiscriminate extension-building is bad news for ordinary voters. Far from giving them some kind of spurious freedom, it will trigger costly civil actions and years of disputes. Bulky, ugly extensions cause more distress than anything to elderly people and poor families, who value their small gardens. A big extension takes their light and invades their privacy. At the other end of the scale, the noise and mess caused by the excavation of basements for swimming pools and playrooms by the very rich already blights the lives of many residents in inner London. There is no need to make it worse.
What Osborne should have done is remove the anomaly of charging VAT on renovations, extensions and conservatories (while new build is zero rated), keeping the checks and balances that local planners use to ensure neighbourhoods retain their character. I loathe planners, but please don't sanction a free-for-all. By the way, most of the builders I encounter these days are from Eastern Europe. Is Mr Cameron going to ensure these "new" construction jobs go to Britons?
Words I hate
As the Paralympics draw to a close, two words I never want to hear again are "legacy" and "outcome". A doctor was talking on the radio last week about someone who had a heart attack and received prompt CPR: apparently, he had a "good outcome". I think he meant recovery. "Outcome" has followed "stakeholder" as a trendy term for everything from trains to medal tallies. As for "legacy", I have no idea what this namby-pamby term stands for. I think it originally meant what happened after the Olympics ended. If so, the signs are not good. The British Retail Consortium has come to the depressing conclusion that the Olympics failed to deliver the much-vaunted boom in consumer spending as sales actually fell in August by 0.4 per cent. The only area where there was an upwards blip was in party snacks. Confectionery was up 8 per cent, crisps up 7 per cent. We didn't even bother to get off our bums to log on and buy anything much online. Last Friday, Radio 4's You and Yours revealed the results of its survey which found that more than a third of councils in England and Wales have cut back on sporting facilities over the past three years. All of which goes to prove our Olympic legacy is flab – and the most likely outcome heart disease and obesity.
Being boring is highly desirable, according to the boss of Lloyds banking group, Antonio Horta-Osorio. Addressing a CBI dinner, he said it was time for banks to go back to being "simple" and "boring" and start delivering what customers want – being trustworthy and dependable. Sadly, Mr Horta-Osorio's goals don't seem to have filtered down to his staff. The Financial Services Authority has completed an investigation into rip-off deals in the banking industry. One organisation singled out for criticism – Lloyds, where four in 10 staff relied on selling complicated financial products customers often don't need or understand to boost their salaries.
The goal of providing simple, straightforward services doesn't seem to have filtered through to Barclays either. It is spending a fortune on an expensive print and television campaign for its "Features Store", billed as an "interactive hub that lets you shape your current account around your life". Misleading piffle. What customers want are simple statements, no charges when in credit, and branches that are open late and on Saturdays. Too much to ask?
Stand tall, Missus
Michelle Obama has never run for political office, but she was tasked with getting her husband re-elected president. It's a bad day for women when highly intelligent females are happy to stand up and spout soggy drivel about their husbands, painting them as ordinary Joes who've fought their way up through life.
Delivering a highly personal speech to the Democratic convention, she gushed about the guy who picked her up for dates in a rusty car, who found his furniture in a skip, and could only afford a pair of shoes that were a size too small. Using your wife as a weapon of mass seduction isn't confined to the other side of the Atlantic.
Party conference season is almost here, and you can bet that Cameron, Miliband and Clegg will be parading their (successful) partners as proof of their suitability for high office. These women should know better than to behave like a human handbag. Female voters are worth more.
The new Marks & Spencer ads have ditched celebs such as Twiggy and Lisa Snowdon, and now feature a line‑up of "ordinary" women, with the strapline For Every Woman You Are. But how ordinary are the females in this very sophisticated line-up? They look rather continental to my eyes, and the one with grey hair isn't exactly wrinkly.
We're told the nine models range in age from 20 to 57, and from size eight to 16, but they are still miles from the average shopper in my local M&S. One is slightly curvaceous, but the overwhelming impression is that a bunch of mini-celebs have been replaced by a group of groovy ladies on a day trip from Barcelona. The clothes look far more desirable – but whether that translates into sales is another matter.