LEADING ARTICLE: Can an old watchdog learn new tricks?

Share
Related Topics
The path of a pioneer is stony. Where do you go when you have won the battle you set out to fight? This is the dilemma for the Consumers' Association, which today welcomes its new director, Sheila McKechnie.

The heart of its activities has been product testing: can we help you to find a better mousetrap, toaster, dishwasher? Forty years of this pressure - especially in the association's magazine, Which? - have paid off, though Japanese manufacturers, of course, also played their part by perceiving that buyers wanted machines that didn't keep breaking down. All products are far better made than they were.

So, exit the Consumers' Association, after its moment in history? This fate had begun to seem possible: it was in the doldrums. But the consumer revolution is only half completed. Ms McKechnie, for 10 years the director of the housing pressure group Shelter and a stalwart of Radio 4's Any Questions? and BBC TV's Question Time, was appointed in the hope of sharpening up the association's attack. There is no shortage of targets.

The Government has pushed public utilities out into something called "the market". But a state-appointed regulator is no substitute for a real market. If you are angry about your ever-rising water rates, or about British Gas deciding to cut down on safety checks, you as an individual consumer can do little about it. The Consumers' Association can. Financial services can be just as unresponsive. The association hasn't had the credit it deserved for the helping to bring about the requirement, which took effect this month, for life assurance companies to disclose their hidden charges. Bank charges are almost as scandalous.

All political parties now claim to be consumer-minded. John Major has his citizens' charters and his schools and hospitals check-lists. The Liberal Democrats have long claimed to speak for those oppressed by autocratic local authorities. Labour is tryingto escape from its tradition of representing those who make things, or deliver services, rather than those who buy them or receive them.

But someone must monitor how the new initiatives work, without the political and trade union log-rolling that marks most such criticism now. This is where the Consumers' Association's reputation for impartial investigation can again be invaluable. Its agenda isn't finished. It simply needs to move on to new territory.

React Now

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

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

 

Ed Miliband's conference speech must show Labour has a head as well as a heart

Patrick Diamond
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments