by Will Lloyd
Friday, 2
September 2022
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14:15

Martin Lewis has run out of ideas

He doesn't have the tools for an age of scarcity
by Will Lloyd
(Photo by Andrew Matthews-Pool/Getty Images)

Two approaches to the cost of living crisis this week. First holiday-going outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson patiently explained how kettles worked to his countrymen. Their households face a £3,000 drop in spending power — but they must not worry. “If you have an old kettle that takes ages to boil,” said Johnson, “it may cost you £20 to replace it, but if you get a new one you’ll save £10 a year every year, on your electricity bill”. Only £2900 to go! 

Then there is the Martin Lewis approach. Release detailed videos on the energy price cap rise. Sound furious. Tweet loads. Not quite Prime Ministerial either somehow (unless you like your leaders hyperventilating with emotion), but better than 90 percent of the Tory leadership field this summer. Unlike them Lewis understands that Britain is facing a troubling new age of scarcity.  

A genial fast-talking savant with theatrical hands, Lewis made himself rich by advising others how to save. He is emblematic of an entire era of British capitalism. He rose to prominence in an post-privatisation era when consumers faced a bewildering array of service providers to choose from.  

Lewis — whose weekly money saving newsletter has over 13 million subscribers — set himself up as a sherpa through this peaky neoliberal terrain. If noughties Britain, with its life coaches, barcodes, mobile networks, CCTV, online mortgage lenders, Homebase stores, credit cards, non-town centre chain restaurants, and gas barbecues had a champion, it was Lewis.

“My job is not to change the system,” he often said. “My job is to help people navigate it.” The fact that his advice was sound, and his newsletter featured hacks that could get people cheaper meals at Nando’s, made him immensely popular, and trusted. If Lewis was anything, he was a technocrat. The system worked, and its local problems existed to be adjusted and tweaked out of existence. Experts like Lewis were there to do just that.

Now the system is buckling, and all Lewis’s navigational aids are busted. “I’m virtually out of tools”, he said earlier this summer. His appearances on television and the radio are frenetic. The geniality is gone, replaced by severity. Lewis warns darkly of “civil unrest” — from mass non-payment of energy bills to outright violence on the streets. He is like a protagonist in a late JG Ballard novel, whose personality begins to warp in response to a dangerously psychopathic environment. Part of me expects to see Lewis doing a Network before September’s out. 

What solutions does Lewis have, other than shouting about bills on the telly? Earlier this year, at Tony Blair’s “ideas conference” in London, Lewis was interviewed by Emily Maitlis. At last, he believed that the system itself had to be changed:

We have an adversarial system that means we can’t come up with long-term plans… Our system is so broken, it is just about throwing bricks at each other in the Commons. It’s not about getting 650 brilliant brains to work together for the future of the country… I get so frustrated… Why do we have an opposition… Our system is set up to oppose and destroy rather than to critique and to build.
- Martin Lewis

So that’s the plan: fix our political system so that it is barely democratic at all. Then the state will be free to rescue the British consumer, who is now helplessly beyond the point where expert advice like Lewis’ makes any difference. These look like centrist gripes dressed up as problem solving. They won’t do. For that reason I suspect Lewis belongs to the past, not the future. As Britain enters “the Age of Scarcity” the days when the biggest conundrum consumers faced was how to get cheaper peri-peri chicken will be a distant dream.

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Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 months ago

I suspect that the Martin Lewises of the future will be the ones telling people how to make, mend and grow their own stuff and how to get by on twenty quid a week. They will publish books with tips such as scrape mould off the top of jam so you can eat the rest of it and 7,000 exciting recipes involving potato.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

What, you don’t scrape mould of jam???

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 months ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

I make my own jam and it is so good that it’s gone before mould gets a look in 🙂

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

So do I. Alas one jar from last year got mould on top.
Now I am just back from the school run with a punnet overflowing with blackberries. Guess what is coming next…

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 months ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

Yep I’ll be picking blackberries as soon as the time is right, but they’ll go into a crumble. My next jam will be apricot and jalapeño chili with the chilis I grew on my windowsill. Might also try something with rosehips as they’re going free from Mother Nature but I just don’t know how to deal with them yet.

Last edited 2 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Marco Sandeman
Marco Sandeman
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Very popular here in Denmark still. If you find valdemarsro dot dk, search for ‘hyben marmalade’ then google translate, you’ll be able to make it danish-style. Best rosehip jam I’ve had was when they’re picked just before being ripe.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 months ago
Reply to  Marco Sandeman

Thank-you so much! I will take a look. Am slightly anxious about getting something wrong and giving myself toxin on toast but it’s not too hard to identify them correctly.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

…and ‘take a look’ quickly before the internet becomes unaffordable, or the electricity to run your broadband does. Maybe we’ll all have to buy ‘books’ again….

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Wow, rosehip jam, that takes me back to the 70’s, picking them as a kid with my parents.
We had a spoonful in our breakfast porridge to sweeten.
I believe they also made wine out of them too.
Thanks for triggering the memory.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 months ago
Reply to  Philip Stott

They’re also packed with vitamin C…probably another reason why your parents were anxious to get a few of them down you!

Eleanor Burt
Eleanor Burt
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Rosehips, blackberries et cetera are food for birds and other nonhuman animal species. They are already struggling to find sufficient food thanks to humans destroying their habitats.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

Jam tomorrow?

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Bad news. Jam making is about to become a lot more expensive… The push for more bioethanol in fuel is diverting even more cane sugar production from the food supply chain, a trend worsened by high oil prices. The EU / UK governments’ ongoing payments to take arable land out of production and the soaring cost of phosphorous fertiliser is reducing sugar beet production. Refined sugar prices have doubled in the last 12 months and will only rise more when Brazil’s millers decide to send a higher proportion of product to bioethonal production in 2023.

It’s is going to be difficult for anyone to offer any advice on avoiding excruciating cost of living increases when it is the supply of basic commodities like sugar and energy that are being squeezed.

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

The good news is that you can make jam without sugar

John Solomon
John Solomon
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Really? Do you mean without ADDED sugar? Or have you discovered a sugar-free fruit?

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 months ago
Reply to  John Solomon

You mean you haven’t tried tomato jam? Yes, I meant added sugar (in reply to a point about sugar cane production)

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

I don’t think it would be possible. At most you get a compote.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  John Solomon

Smartass!

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

If you like top grade marmalade chop 2:1 lemons:oranges finely: add half a cup of water and a tbs or two of honey. Bring to the boil: simmer for 15 mins.. 3 x 1 lb pots of 95% fruit marmalade. If you fill hot mix into hot jars they’ll form a vacuum when cold (no mold). £6 worth for £2 cost max.

Keith J
Keith J
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Something taught to me by my parents when I was growing up. Sadly, they didn’t get a publishing deal because that was what all parents of that era were teaching their kids.

Last edited 2 months ago by Keith Jefferson
John 0
John 0
2 months ago
Reply to  Keith J

Very easy to self-publish nowadays. Seriously, stick these ideas in a book and I’ll help you with uploading it to Amazon. Drop me an email at [email protected]

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Aris Roussinos leaps to mind.

jane baker
jane baker
2 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I love potato recipes.

Michael Stanford
Michael Stanford
2 months ago

Forgive me for sounding cynical, but age (I’m 74) does bring privileges, cynicism being one of them. I survived the shortages of the 1950s, the power cuts of the early 1970s, the three-day week. I paid 14% interest on my first mortgage and I’m still here. I’ve survived oil crises and terrorism on the streets. This, too, will pass.

Simon Shaw
Simon Shaw
2 months ago

I remeber the same being the same age,we need far more optimism from our leaders and the MSM and far less negativity!

Mike Carr
Mike Carr
2 months ago

Lewis is in a panic because he’s just lost his means of making money.

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Carr

What’s that got to do with jam?

jane baker
jane baker
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Carr

I do think he really cares. I’ve got lots of strategies for living on the cheap but I’m not telling anyone as if THEY hear it they’ll do something to cut me off at the pass. All those books people publish about I fed my family healthy meals for a year when I was on benefits and I only spent £5 a week. Don’t tell them. They’ll cut everybody’s money. It’s like if a paraplegic climbs Everest,its a wonderful achievement but another wheelchair bound benefit recipient is told,you can work,you’ve got arms.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 months ago

He’s getting more hysterical with time. I quite liked him before, but his catastrophism is becoming tedious, and now he’s leaning on politicians – who let the ego out?

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
2 months ago

I hadn’t really listened to him until this week when I was driving around in a van and he was on for a few hours. I expected measured and calm analysis with helpful tips. Instead it was just sympathising with people who weren’t able to go abroad on holiday and shouting (literally raising his voice over people) to say that the government had to pay people’s bills. He sounded deranged and completely unaware of the complexity of the issue of high energy prices – not what I expected at all as I thought he would be pretty well informed about finance.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
2 months ago

I feel that Martin was wrong when he advised not to fix, or at least he was (very) wrong in my case. After much deliberation, soul searching and calculations – after all Martin said not to fix… – I accepted the fix my provider offered me and, assuming they won’t go bust, I’ll be ok this winter and the next.
We knew gas prices were still going up and unless what their provider suggested was something like over 2x the previous cap, then it should have been seriously considered by all before rejecting it.

Last edited 2 months ago by Andrea X
Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
2 months ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

Don’t know what you saw from Martin Lewis, but in his defence I can say that I received a notification from his website before the recent rises strongly advising taking a fix, one of which I secured (for three years). So I, at least, am grateful for his advice.

iRadiate iRadiate
iRadiate iRadiate
2 months ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

He advised people not to fix their energy rate. As usual I ignored him and did my own thing. I fixed my octopus go plan for a other year. Their price went up just days later. Martin is a one trick pony. Problem he has now is that his pony is lame. Time to put him out of his misery.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
2 months ago

I mostly followed his advice, buy not in this instance.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
2 months ago

Lewis’s catastrophism doesn’t help anyone and just makes the anxious more anxious.

Mark Nattrass
Mark Nattrass
2 months ago

Slightly misleading for the writer to suggest the PM was talking about kettles in relation to the cost of living crisis. If you watch the speech, he was using the investment-in-new-kettle as an analogy for the perils of short-termism in relation to major infrastructure investments (specifically, in nuclear power plants). But hey, why let that get in the way of one more ad-hominem dig.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Nattrass

..another important point: the heat ‘wasted’ using an old kettle ends up heating your home (the space exactly where you are btw): ergo it’s not wasted. Any ‘saving’ achieved using a modern kettle will mean a slight increase in your gas bill to compensate! These things must be thought through!

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
2 months ago

Martin Lewis is a bit like Uswitch. Since the price cap on gas came into place Uswitch have been effectively made redundant. All Martin Lewis can do is implore the government to spend more money – as every good socialist should.

Adam Bacon
Adam Bacon
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob Britton

Or you could say that he champions the genuinely poor, unlike the Labour Party. They need a champion for God’s sake!

Meanwhile, an allegedly Tory government threw money indiscriminately and wastefully at the general population over the last two and a half years like no government in modern history…

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
2 months ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

But the Tory government is a bunch of closet socialists.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

You’ll find the bulk if it was thrown in the direction of their rich mates!

Andrew Holland
Andrew Holland
2 months ago

My suspicion is Lewis is a consumer affairs expert, but knows very little about economics. Never heard him warn about the dangers of money printing, for example.

Su Mac
Su Mac
2 months ago

Wealth preservation micro view = Martin Lewis
Wealth preservation macro view = buy gold, a water filter and a generator

Adam Bacon
Adam Bacon
2 months ago

Martin Lewis is adapting to a radically changing economic environment. I only occasionally refer to him, but may possibly do so more in times of economic hardship.

polidori redux
polidori redux
2 months ago

J.G. Ballard – Eerily prescient.
Read his works and see your future.

Douglas H
Douglas H
2 months ago

Dude, we never left the Age of Scarcity!

jane baker
jane baker
2 months ago

Back in the 1970s,1980s,even the 1990s we had l a plethora of consumer advice shows,on evening prime time to,we were consumers we had rights. We don’t have those shows now,not mainstream and they don’t have the clout that Esther Rantzen exercised. That’s because they no longer need us en masse to be consumers and we don’t have rights. I was never into the ideology of “consumerism” or “retail therapy”,what’s therapeutic about the equivalent of throwing your money down the toilet,or rather transferring it into someone else’s bank account. But I did and do buy things for the practical reason I can’t make most of the things I need in everyday life and it takes months to grow veg for food.
So I already know what it’s like to “own nothing and be happy! – they,THEY,are fixing the system so there is no smart way round it. I think we should all create small,best keep then small,chains of people we know with whom we trade and barter informally. Of course there is risks with that. A lifelong friend might rip you off or you are doing all the giving and they are doing all the taking. Like bookies we’d have no legal right of enforcement so choose your friends well.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 months ago
Reply to  jane baker

Here’s a simple fact re bartering (or using local ‘scrip’ ie cash accepted only in your locality).. if everyone spent all their money in their own community, all the money will still be in that community. Then go and spend it again ‘normally’ outside the community. Everyone in that community is twice as well off, overnight! QED. ‘bet Martin Lewis never thought of that!

Last edited 2 months ago by Liam O'Mahony