Simon Kelner: Miliband is right to attack 'predatory capitalism'

Kelner's view

Share

Ed Miliband is not having the best of times in one of Britain's worst jobs. He's been ridiculed by his critics for small errors – his tweet about “Blackbusters”, and saying he took poll results “with a pinch of sugar” – and he's been rounded on by his core supporters with his attempt to take on the unions over public-sector pay restraint. Nevertheless, his speech yesterday about “Rip-off Britain” – not to be confused with “Alarm Clock Britain” and “John Lewis Britain” – will have struck a chord with people of every political, social and demographic persuasion.

He was particularly critical of "surcharge culture", the practice by which companies levy extra charges on customers for services they might reasonably expect to be included in the price. We can all recognise this phenomenon. Budget airlines are well-known offenders in this area, charging for luggage, check-in, payment by credit card etc, even though Ryanair stopped short of asking passengers to pay a quid to spend a penny. The government has asked for airlines to be more transparent about their charging structure, and Miliband said yesterday that fees should be declared upfront.

Not surprisingly, sceptical consumers have assumed this will mean the same price but presented in a different way. This practice is known in some quarters (i.e. people who are familiar with my anecdotes) as "hiding the umbrella". This derives from one of my favourite newspaper stories about expenses. A senior reporter on a major newspaper filed an expense claim which included the cost of an umbrella. Quite properly, the accounts department returned the claim, saying it was the reporter's responsibility to be properly attired and they couldn't possibly pay for his umbrella. Miffed, the reporter re-submitted his expenses sheet, without the cost of the umbrella. Yet the total amount of his claim was exactly the same. At the foot of the sheet, he put a little note: "ps Find the umbrella!"

Airlines, of course, are not the only offenders in this area, and at least a plane ticket is a discretionary purchase: you have chosen to go to Riga for the weekend, so you can hardly complain when you have to pay for a bread roll.

However, we all need banking services, and, as you might expect, banks are in the front row of the grid when it comes to the rip-off stakes. All manner of complex fees if you have an overdraft (plus the inevitable "administration charge"), up to £5 for a duplicate statement, more than double that if they write you a letter, and so on. Almost everyone you could meet will have some story of a bank charging them to write them a letter to tell them they are charging them for something else.

Mr Miliband is definitely on the right track by shining a light on what he calls "predatory capitalism". In the current economic climate, this is bound to get traction. In better times, we'd make a mobile phone call and not know, or even care, how much it cost. Today, we keep a very close check on what our service provider is charging. The same is true of our banking arrangements. But this is not what really irritates us about banks and mobile phone companies. I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking I'd pay whatever it takes to phone them up and get a simple answer to a simple question!

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A solar energy farm in France  

Nature Studies: For all the attractions of solar power, it shouldn’t blight the countryside

Michael McCarthy
Supporters of New Democracy wave Greek flags during Antonis Samaras pre-election speech.  

Greece elections: Where does power lie? This is the question that ties the UK to Athens

Steve Richards
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project