LEADING ARTICLE: Can an old watchdog learn new tricks?

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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Administrator

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral