The political lemons are damaging our politics

11th February, 2013 9:34 am

Chris Huhne is a political lemon. He’s the equivalent of a fourth-hand car with dodgy brakes being sold to a dear old granny with poor reflexes. He lied and did so in one of the most destructive ways possible. He lied to his family, the police, the courts and his constituents. This is why he’s like a bad used car – a lemon. It’s the sort of behaviour that damages everyone in politics.

It’s a problem of information asymmetry. Basically, we didn’t know that Chris Huhne was such a liar when he was elected. He probably did. Maybe some of those closest to him knew it too. But he kept it hidden from the public. In this way he’s a lot like the used cars described in George Akerlof’s ‘The Market for Lemons’, a paper which contributed to him winning a Nobel Prize in economics. When someone buys a used car they don’t know whether they are getting a lemon (a dud) or not. The information advantage is with the seller. A buyer will only know if they’ve bought a dud after they take ownership of it. In this case, a large number of people in Eastleigh who voted for Huhne only realised they got a dud after he was elected.

His lying is part of a bigger problem facing politics. Lemons in a used car market lower prices for all cars. This is because buyers don’t know whether the car they buy is a lemon or not, so even good cars are considered suspect. I think this principle can be applied to politics. When a politician lies or misrepresents their position, politicians of all stripes are tarred with the same brush. Even though most MPs, from all parties, are generally honest and hardworking it only takes the actions of a few, such as this Lib Dem lemon, to drag the whole lot down. After all if you didn’t know Huhne was the lying type, how can you tell any other politician is? It creates uncertainty in the minds of the voters about whether they can trust politicians or not. Of course, it’s not all Huhne’s fault. There are plenty of political events like the expenses scandal, tuition fees and Sarah Teather’s recent vote against equal marriage, that contribute. Only around 14% of the British public say they trust politicians.

Such behaviour also has the problem of the ‘bad driving out the good’. When the used car market has a noticeable number of lemons it doesn’t make sense for a seller to put a good car on the market as the value is lower than is should be due to a lack of trust. With the poor behaviour of some politicians causing a lot of public anger I suspect, but don’t have any evidence, that a lot of good and talented people are being put off entering politics. It’s also not good for getting genuinely honest people into the political system. If George Washington truely could not tell a lie, he would certainly be at a disadvantage in British politics when politicians, of all parties, are willing to change their ‘strongly held beliefs’ for the sake of getting selected, getting elected and getting ahead.

This is one of the reasons why the weekend of action against Sarah Teather is worthwhile. She gave a false impression about an important issue and it’s important for any party to put lemons of another party on display for the world to see. There are of course ways to mitigate the consequences of the lemon problem. Good car dealerships offer warranties; politicians have to answer voters at elections. A good car brand can help people trust that the car they are buying is worth it; there are politicians with good reputations. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that Chris Huhne did more than just shame himself last week, in his own small way he further eroded trust in politicians. His footnote in the history of political cynicism is confirmed.

John Clarke blogs at johnmichaelclarke.wordpress.com

  • JoeDM

    And Labour had its ‘Lemons’ as well.

    Chief Lemon must be Peter Mandelson: twice having to resign from ministerial office and then Gordon Brown has the cheek to bring him back into the Labour Cabinet in 2008 as Lord Mandelson of Foy with the job of Business Sectretary.

    And the metropolitan elite politicos wonder why they are not trusted. Doh!

  • JoeDM

    And Labour had its ‘Lemons’ as well.

    Chief Lemon must be Peter Mandelson: twice having to resign from ministerial office and then Gordon Brown has the cheek to bring him back into the Labour Cabinet in 2008 as Lord Mandelson of Foy with the job of Business Sectretary.

    And the metropolitan elite politicos wonder why they are not trusted. Doh!

    • johnmclarke

      It does indeed. All parties do and they all have the same negative impact.

    • John Reid

      the second time he resigned he didn’t do anything wrong, and the first time he borrowed £370,000 off a friend and didn’t tell his bank manager, hardly a hanging offence.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Senior/526933811 Mark Senior

    Remind us how many Labour MP’s and Peers have ended up in jail .

  • johnmclarke

    Far too many. The principle applies to them too obviously. It just happens that its Lib Dem MPs that are making the news at the moment.

Latest

  • News Weekly survey: deputy leader and London Mayor

    Weekly survey: deputy leader and London Mayor

      Next Friday ballots will go out for the leadership and deputy leadership contests. Since we recently asked who you’re backing for leader, we want to know who you’re planning on voting for to be deputy leader. There are six people in the running, who will get your first preference?  Let us know what you think. But these aren’t the only two contests going on at the moment. For Labour members, affiliates and supporters in London there’s also an election to […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Full 2015 CLP leadership nominations list – and what’s changed from 2010?

    Full 2015 CLP leadership nominations list – and what’s changed from 2010?

    The deadline for Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) to make a nomination in the leadership and deputy leadership contests closed on Friday (July 31st). 387 CLPs decided to support a candidate for leader, slightly down on the 396 who did so in 2010. The final results were: Jeremy Corbyn: 152 Andy Burnham: 111 Yvette Cooper: 106 Liz Kendall: 18 Below, we have compared 2015 CLP endorsements with those from 2010 (a full list of 2010 nominations is here). There are plenty […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Euroscepticism starts at Calais

    Euroscepticism starts at Calais

    Another “Europe means chaos” story means the current crisis over migrants at the Channel appears to be manna to British Eurosceptics. In their prejudiced minds, we know who they really think ‘starts at Calais’. But as I’ve debated with them on local radio in my own East of England constituency over the past few days, not only have I been shocked by their callous disregard for the humanitarian consequences of the current crisis but also by the cynicism with which every […]

    Read more →
  • News Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie slams “Corbynomics”

    Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie slams “Corbynomics”

    Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie has warned against the economic proposals of leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn, describing them in The Independent as “starry-eyed, hard left” policies. Leslie’s criticism appears to be around the announcements Corbyn made in a speech last month – specifically his support for “people’s quantitative easing”. Leslie, who is supporting Yvette Cooper in the leadership contest, said: “Printing money and ending Bank of England independence would push up inflation, lending rates, squeeze out money for schools and […]

    Read more →
  • News Scottish Labour leadership candidate calls for replacing the House of Lords with an elected second chamber based in Glasgow

    Scottish Labour leadership candidate calls for replacing the House of Lords with an elected second chamber based in Glasgow

    Kezia Dugdale has called for the abolishing the House of Lords and replacing it with an elected second chamber. Dugdale is running against Ken Macintosh to be Scottish Labour leader. In an article for the Guardian, she has said should would like “shake up the UK” by replacing House of Lords with an elected second chamber, which she would campaign to have based in Glasgow. She argues that “people are looking for signs that politicians get it” and that this means  institutions […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit