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I hate legislation. Ask anyone. Thou shalt not drive without wearing a seat belt. Thou shalt not smoke in a pub. Thou shalt not rewire thine own house without a certificate of competence. Thou shalt not have a pump action shotgun in thy wardrobe if itís capable of firing more than three shots.
The current government clearly has an obsession with dreaming up more and more ways to stop us doing pretty much anything and everything, especially if itís pleasurable. If you believe the statistics, the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown comedy duo created more than 3000 criminal offences in just nine years (thatís one for every man, woman and child in Ö well, Buckden, Cambridgeshireóor, if you prefer, about one per day).
Itís recently become illegal to impersonate a traffic warden (not that I can figure out why youíd want to). The Yanks, we learn, can now pretty much extradite/snatch/kidnap any British citizen in the country whenever the whim takes them. Worst still, having thrown most of the Magna Carta into the recycling bin, modern Britons are now, broadly speaking, treated as guilty until proved innocent. And you can be arrested these days simply for hating someoneówhich leaves me up to my neck in something warm and brown because there are an awful lot of people on my pump-action-shotgun-in-the-wardrobe, must-kill-before-I-die list.
Now, most of us have fathers or grandfathers who fought the bloody Nazis, etc, in order to give us the freedoms that for so long weíve taken for granted. But in this Orwellian nightmare from which weíre currently unable to awaken, the government is racking up new laws faster than the Whitehall scribes can commit them to their Blackberries or smartphones. Ignorance of the law never used to be an excuse, note. But it certainly is now. No one in the country can possibly keep up.
But guess what? Iím actually thinking of writing to my local MP and advocating (just) one more law for the books: Thou shalt not flog new items on eBay without a bona fide trading licence issued by the Ministry of Fair Game.
Think Iím kidding? Then think again. What started as an amusing idea back in 1995, when Pierre Omidyar created AuctionWeb, has since turned into the commercial embodiment of Frankensteinís monster thatís become one of the greatest horror stories of our time.
"In short, the current trading paradigm is unworkable. It makes it impossible for LEGITIMATE businessmen to go about their lawful activities because weíre in the midst of nothing less than a trading anarchistís revolution that the government is too frail/stupid/incompetent/corrupt/all of the above to do anything about."
Put simply, eBay isnít funny anymore. Itís not quaint. Or convenient. Or good value. Or fair. Or efficient. Or honest. Or accurate. And itís certainly not in the consumerís interest (which is what a significant part of the Blair-Brown law-making frenzy has been about). What eBay really is is a huge wrecking ball smashing through the legitimate trading concerns of the nation, and through the wider world at large.
Did I just say legitimate?
Yes. I did. Because 50,000 fly-by-night pilots flogging cheap Asian knock-offs from the dubious comfort of their bedrooms can hardly be called legitimate. And itís not actually cheap Asian knocks-off that we have to worry about. Itís cheap everything, and of course itís relatively easy to be cheap when youíre not paying rates or VAT or income tax or liability insurance. Itís easy being cheap when youíre not hamstrung by the Health and Safety fascists and when you donít have to adhere to the reams of modern employment law (another successful Blair-Brown how-to-wreck-the-British-economy plot), and when you can just up sticks and dump your laptop in the bin and go on that world hiking tour leaving 500 disgruntled customers fighting it out between PayPal, MasterCard and Visa.
In short, the current trading paradigm is unworkable. It makes it impossible for LEGITIMATE businessmen to go about their lawful activities because weíre in the midst of nothing less than a trading anarchistís revolution that the government is too frail/stupid/incompetent/corrupt/all of the above to do anything about.
The free market is one thing. And long may it endure. But allowing an army of latter day online eSpivs to undermine long established, time-hallowed, workable and generally satisfying business practice (and ethics) is something else. And in the light of the recent banking fiasco, itís pretty obvious to everyone this side of death that human greed and idiocy will always prevail over moderation and restraint.
When asked by the French government what they could do to help French businessmen, Voltaire famously said, ďLaissez nous faire.Ē Leave us alone. Well I say, ďLaissez nous NOT faire.Ē Because itís not fair. Ebay stinks. Itís underhand. It tells you that youíve ďwonĒ things when youíve paid for things (usually through PayPal whichóguess what?óeBay owns). It lulls you into thinking that its traders are all honest Joes when a significant proportion are outright crooks. It corrals you into waiting days, or weeks, to find out whether or not youíve actually bought something. But most of all, it reduces the whole world to a cheap and nasty lucky dip that undermines the earth beneath the feet of the people whoíve spent years developing a business and playing by the rules and rightly expect a little protection from the state in return for the numerous levies theyíve paid.
Whatís that? Someone call me an eBaby? Hardly. Ebay has a place in the world. Let me be the first (or last) to say it. Itís a fine institution for second hand marketeers and stolen art pieces. It's a wonderful environment to study illiteracy and banality. And it gives you something to do while your broken legs heal.
But for the average, decent, hardworking motorcycle dealer, or plumbing supplies shop, or DIY emporium, allowing eBay to exist as it currently does is a stab in the back by the backsliding politicians of this miserable era in which we live. Itís a slow motion train wreck that few of us are going to walk away from.
So whatís the answer? Thatís trickier. Maybe there is no absolute answer. Maybe that train is just the unstoppable future that you're either on board of, or tied to the tracks beneath its wheels.
But we certainly need some controls on who sells what to who. We need some checks and balances to ensure an even playing field for LEGITIMATE traders (oops, that dirty word again). We need to ensure that we retain our precious high streets and backstreets and side streets, and that the consumer still has a place to buy his or her wares where the dealers are real, not virtual, and where the dog can see the bloody rabbit before handing over his precious coin (and they can do something about the rampant monopoly of Tesco while theyíre at it).
You can find your MP at the usual place: House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA. Put pen to paper, put paper into envelope, and stick the envelope where even the Royal Mail canít fail to find it.
Alternately, do nothing and plan for a long and demoralising life on the DSS scrapheap.
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