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

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • 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.

  • 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

  • Comment Featured Thatcher wanted the ‘managed decline’ of Merseyside. I want to manage its renaissance

    Thatcher wanted the ‘managed decline’ of Merseyside. I want to manage its renaissance

    Back in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher’s government came close to writing off Merseyside. There was a serious conversation about leaving our city and its neighbours to ‘managed decline’ and the tender mercies of her economic shock therapy. As her Chancellor at the time, Geoffrey Howe, patronisingly put it: ‘We must not expend all our limited resources in trying to make water flow uphill.’ We’ve come a long way since then. Since 2010, Labour has had the privilege of running Liverpool […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Burnham emerges as LabourList readers’ favourite for Manchester Mayor

    Burnham emerges as LabourList readers’ favourite for Manchester Mayor

    Andy Burnham is LabourList readers’ favourite to become the Labour candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester. The Shadow Home Secretary announced his candidacy last week, and is up against Ivan Lewis and Tony Lloyd to go into next year’s election. Of those who voted in our survey, 45 per cent opted for Burnham, who came second in last year’s leadership election. Tony Lloyd finished some way behind with 22 per cent, while Ivan Lewis received the support of 12 per cent […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured It’s not the shared economy, stupid – but it does require a collective response

    It’s not the shared economy, stupid – but it does require a collective response

    It is often described as the sharing economy. It sounds very cuddly. All of us on a patchwork sofa, sharing a nice cup of tea… Or it’s the gig economy – because Uber drivers are all creative artists enjoying their freedom to perform… I prefer to call it the new intermediaries economy. Not as cuddly or cool but more accurate. When you get into an Uber cab the driver is not sharing her car with you, she is selling you […]

    Read more →
  • Europe News Blair: Brexit would hit living standards of society’s poorest most

    Blair: Brexit would hit living standards of society’s poorest most

    Tony Blair has weighed in on the debate over Brexit, warning that leaving the European Union would hit living standards and hit the poorest in society most. The former Prime Minister appears to make an appeal to Labour supporters – seen as an important swing demographic in the vote – in two interventions today. While Blair is a divisive, and even simply unpopular, figure in the modern Labour Party, there are hopes that he is still seen as a political “big beast” and […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured Patronising people with patriotism will not win 2020

    Patronising people with patriotism will not win 2020

    Labour will need to win over the socially conservative voters of today in win in 2020 – but flag waving will not make up for a lack of credible policy on welfare and spending and a real understanding of the hardship faced by working people throughout the country. Widely reported research by Jon Cruddas this week suggested that since 2005, voters that were sympathetic to more socially conservative ideas have been increasingly more likely to select UKIP over Labour on […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit