For the first time in British history the Office of Fair Trading has real teeth, and, according to John Bridgeman, not before time. Before an audience at the London School of Economics invited by ING Baring, he outlined the history of competition policy - or rather, the UK's lack of it over the past 100 years. Bridgeman's corporate scourging was made under the gaze of portraits of ancestral Barings who were, no doubt, spinning in their graves at the thought of so much regulation getting in the way of business.
Bridgeman is no stuffy academic or civil servant. He was chief executive of British Aluminium before moving on to the Monopolies & Mergers Commission and then the OFT. His style is laconic and laid back - just right for the audience of businessmen, historians and economists.
He held his audience in rapt attention for an hour. He used his hands to good effect, and had a light touch with sardonic humour. Cleverly, he kept the punch to the end when he revealed exactly how the OFT enforces competition rules - they've been taking lessons from the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise. They are also making it known that any cartel member blowing the whistle would be offered great leniency. In the States, this results in whistle-blowing on at least two cartels a month.