Today in parliament the labour MP Sharon Hodgson brought forward a private members bill aimed at controlling the spiralling problem of ticket touting. If you have sought to by a ticket for a popular music event during the past few years, then you may well have been left reeling with frustration. While there have always been touts flogging tickets outside venues, the problem has assumed a whole new dimension since reselling went online. The best seats to any event will typically go in a flash, only to reappear on ebay or elsewhere for several hundred pounds. The result, as Sharon Hodgson noted, is that ordinary fans are excluded.
The solutions she put forward were not draconian. Under her proposals, people putting on events could, if they wished, apply for protection from unauthorised resale. If they did, touts would be banned from selling tickets at a mark up of over ten per cent.
If anybody doubts that the Tory Party’s support for free markets is characterised by a certain doctrinaire zealotry, they need only to look at the response from the government benches to this relatively modest proposal. When Hodgson mentioned that tickets for the recent Help or Heroes concert were sold originally for £46, but touted for £106, the Conservative Philip Davies interrupted: “I wonder”, he asked, “who the honourable lady sees as the victim”. After all the organisers had got their £46. His honourable friend Jacob Rees-Mogg then chipped in to have a go at the organisers for not selling tickets “for the market price, which is £106″. The idea that somebody unable to spalsh out three figures might have appreciated the chance to see Robbie Williams or Tom Jones was clearly a non-issue for them.
And so it continued in that vain. Tory MP Sajid Javid rose to tell us what his “constituents might think of this proposal”. “I think” he stated, “they would believe that if they have genuinely and honestly come by a ticket and they wish to sell it, Government should impose no restrictions on what price they can sell it for, and on how they can sell it.” Presumably far more of his constituents are in the business of buying and selling tickets than, say, trying to see their favourite bands once in a while.
Yet perhaps the most illuminating was one Javid’s later comments. As long as tickets were not got hold of fraudulently, he said, then touting tickets for “whatever profit” was “an excellent example of the enterprise culture and of what a classic entrepreneur does”. In a certain sense on cannot argue with him. Ticket touts are handsomely rewarded for producing nothing of any value, and taking few substantial risks on their own account. As such they are indeed very much representative of 21st century British capitalism, dominated as it is by financial institutions deemed too big to fail. The difference with the Conservatives, however, is that (for all their communitarian guff) they consider such activity to be the foundation the Good Society.
Update: Heroes of the hour.
Special praise is due to Tory MP who managed to show up his honourable friends in the debate by demonstrating that the proposed measure is consistent with even a vaguely pragmatic commitment to free markets (see also Will’s comments below).
Special praise is also due to Leonard Cohen. When he performed massively touted and oversubscribed gigs in London a couple of years back he set aside some tickets for diehard fans on the unofficial Leonard Cohen forum, and took steps to ensure they would have first dibs. I have no doubt this was a personal decision by him, rather than the work of a promoter. After discovering the forum and the attached site a few years back, he became a personal friend of the forum administrator, and even came to meet us forum members when he was in London.