Anyone old enough to remember the futile attempts by successive governments in the late 1960s and 1970s to control prices, whether of products or labour, must be reaching for the tranquilisers when they hear talk of “capping” the cost of energy. Back then, it didn’t matter if the controls took the form of moral pressure or statute law, the results were the same - a distortion of supply and demand that eventually rebounded at great cost to everyone.

“The past few years have been a story of squeeze and squander”

Once again politicians appear to have fallen under the spell of Diocletian. In a market dominated by six big operators, there must be some anti-competitive behaviour, so let’s threaten to intervene and hope that will be enough. And as the threat must now be taken seriously, we can be certain the energy companies will ensure they are not the losers.

So what about the rising cost of food? No mystery here. Recent poor harvests have produced a short-term blip, but beneath this lies the long-term growth of world demand for food. Some forecasts suggest a doubling or even trebling in the cost of the average food basket over the next 20 years as the world’s population continues to grow faster than our collective capacity to feed it.

Nor are the leading supermarkets anything less than fiercely price competitive - and in the past 15 years, three Competition Commission reports have said so. Only a mighty increase in worldwide agricultural productivity and the widespread adoption of genetic modification will curb the coming inflation.

The current political focus on living standards, however, is only symptomatic of our failure to increase the capacity of the UK economy to generate more wealth. Productivity is lower now than five years ago. Export-led growth remains a pipe dream.

Ministers insist deficit and debt reduction are top priority, yet the state’s grab on resources has hardly weakened and their own departments continue to throw away billions on IT projects officials are incapable of managing. The past few years have been a story of simultaneous squeeze and squander. Whether it’s a badger cull, benefits reform or HS2, incompetence reigns. Austerity is here to stay.

Kevin Hawkins is an independent retail consultant