Comedian Mark Steel's column in the Independent hits the nail on the head. He's normally funnier than this but there's not a lot to laugh about when friends and family are losing their jobs, worrying about getting their pensions etc.
Inflated prices, extraordinary profits – that is the private utilities for you
Greed is out of fashion. Suddenly it is inconceivable that there could be a programme like the ones on every night until a year ago, with names like Property Location Vast Profit, that ended with a couple spluttering, "We're SO glad you persuaded us to buy this disused hospice in Suffolk because we're going to convert it into a penthouse suite and put a ski slope in the loft and sell it for a million pounds and buy a stretch of coastline in Turkey", and now it's worth bugger all and it serves them right, the greedy bastards.
The Conservatives, trying to adapt to this shift, win top marks for cheek. At the moment, they're complaining about how little regulation there was of the banks during the years of greed. Because, if there's one thing that has defined the Conservative Party over the past 30 years, it has been it dogged determination to stop bankers from making themselves unfairly rich. When Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, hardly a day went by without her bringing in some new rule to curtail the wealth of the rich and share it with miners.
But Labour are caught out just as much, with Gordon Brown now telling us he deplores the avarice of the bankers, which in no way contradicts previous speeches, "O holy hedge fund holders, eternity is but a moment next to the everlasting wealth creation you bestow upon us. If the universe were a bonus, it would be a mere snippet of what you deserve, O mighty lords of loving investment."
There is change in thinking, though. An opinion poll published last week, in which people were asked if all services privatised over the last 25 years should be returned to public ownership, was 67 per cent for and 25 per cent against. This is quite a transformation from the days when you were considered mentally ill if you didn't buy gas and telecom shares. Those enticements were like the deals signed by a naïve band with a record company – a few bob handed out at the start, but that is swiped back many times over. As well as the inflated prices and extraordinary profits, when you've spent three hours trying to contact npower through a call centre, you would gladly vote for it to be taken into public ownership by the People's Republic of North bloody Korea. You might have to send in a poem worshipping the President with your bill, but at least you would be able to get through.
The poll also asked whether people agreed with a housing programme to provide three million social homes, and 71 per cent agreed, while 26 per cent disagreed. And it asked whether people thought the priority should be to bail out banks or protect jobs: while 87 per cent said "protect jobs", a full 8 per cent of weirdos preferred bailing out banks.
The poll was published alongside a "People's Charter", launched by trade unions, that proposes a different set of priorities from those pursued in recent years, and aims to attract a mass of signatures across the country. So if everyone who agrees with its proposals signs it, Gordon Brown will have to set up "Ultra New Labour", that accepts the world has changed and you can't fight modern elections on old-fashioned values. Peter Mandelson will make speeches that go, "There can be no room for the dinosaurs in our movement who oppose modernisation, which is why I'm renationalising the railways to suit a modern global economy," and Alistair Campbell will insist "The days of cosy deals with international businessmen belong in the past." It's got to be worth a try.