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Steal Labour’s clothes, look like Labour

Britain’s electricity supply is in peril. On Monday (20 Sep) the Financial Times reported,

Peter McGirr wanted to modernise the British consumer energy market when he founded Green three years ago, building a customer base of more than 250,000 households. Now, with the sector in meltdown, he says it is “incredibly unlikely” the Newcastle-based supplier will survive until Christmas without government intervention.

Five smaller suppliers have collapsed in the past six weeks, with four or five more expected to join them in the next 10 days as the industry is battered by unprecedented surges in wholesale electricity and gas prices.

Observers are predicting as few as 10 suppliers will make it through the winter, implying 40 could go bust. Some executives have privately suggested the sector could go back to a big four, five or six companies.

How did this happen to us? I know who to blame for setting the UK on this disastrous course. On Tuesday 24 September 2013, eight years ago tomorrow, the then Leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband, gave his big speech to the Labour party conference in Brighton. One item was particularly popular:

“If we win the election 2015 the next Labour government will freeze gas and electricity prices until the start of 2017. Your bills will not rise. It will benefit millions of families and millions of businesses. That’s what I mean by a government that fights for you. That’s what I mean when I say Britain can do better than this.”

The response from the Tories was immediate and scathing:

As the Guardian reported,

Energy minister Greg Barker attacks Labour’s plan to cap energy prices

In response to Ed Miliband’s announcement, the energy minister says capping energy prices would have catastrophic consequences for investment in the UK

Figures from the gas industry chipped in:

The lights could go out if Labour introduces its 20-month freeze on energy prices, Ian Peters of British Gas said. “If we have no ability to control what we do in the retail prices” and wholesale prices suddenly go up within a single year “that will threaten energy security,” he said. Asked if that meant the lights would go out, he replied: “I think that is a risk.”

But Mr Miliband’s policy had equally vigorous defenders. On 25 September 2013, the day after Mr Miliband’s speech, Alex Andreou of the New Statesman thundered:

Ed Miliband’s critics think his energy pledge will make the lights go out. They are wrong

The critics were wrong. Ed Miliband is innocent OK! It was not his pledge that a Labour government would limit energy prices that has brought us so near to having the lights go out.

The Conservative manifesto of 2017 included energy price controls, duly introduced by Prime Minister Theresa May on 1st January 2019.

And here we are.

15 comments to Steal Labour’s clothes, look like Labour

  • Fraser Orr

    If a price freeze is going to “benefit millions of families and millions of businesses” why stop with a price freeze? Why not force supplies to cut their prices in half? OMG, imagine the benefit if we forced suppliers to cut prices to zero!!

    “Freeze” would be exactly the right word for the winter time.

  • bobby b

    Ah, the things you have to do to attract voters in a scientifically illiterate world!

    We get what we deserve. If we don’t want to do the work to understand the world, why would we think our elected representatives will? We gave up knowledge because we trusted to “experts” to do it all for us, not understanding that our “experts” would simply feel less pressure to work on their knowledge in a stupid world.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Lately, on a friend’s recommendation, I read Dorothy Sayers’s The Mind of the Maker, in whose opening chapters she talks about the difference between humanly passed laws and natural laws, saying that natural laws are like “If you hold your finger in the fire you will get burned”: they are statements of fact, and “given the universe as it stands, the rules that govern it are not freaks of momentary caprice.” What she calls the penalty for breaking a natural law is “judgment.” This is much like what Kipling describes in “The Gods of the Copybook Headings,” with such statements as “though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy.”

    I rather fear that democratic government encourages people to think that they can vote to suspend natural laws, as if they were merely bits of legislation, and that the only cure for this, if there is one, may be to suffer judgments. C and I left California a bit over a year and a half ago, because we feared it was going over the precipice, and it seems as if the people we left behind are eagerly voting to accelerate that progress. And on one hand I can’t be happy at the harm they are likely to suffer but on the other there may be no other way for them to learn. Indeed, paying the painful tuition may be part of the education.

  • George Atkisson

    Mr. Stoddard –

    I left CA myself 3 years ago, the insanity of the blue cities being a major factor. Far too many “Vote Blue no matter Who” people who blithely expect that there will never, can never, be any negative consequences to their ‘feel good about myself’ votes. If there’s not enough money, then Tax the Rich, or get the Feds to throw a couple billion dollars to bail out the state’s deficits. That’s what the politicians are there for, right?

  • William H. Stoddard

    Mr. Atkisson,

    As Heinlein put it, “You know that water runs downhill but you think that, praise the lord, it’ll never reach the bottom!”

  • Paul Marks

    Gas and electricity prices in the United Kingdom are some of the highest (highest – not lowest) in Europe – the problem is not low prices (“price controls”) the problem is taxes and regulations – which are pushing prices higher (higher not lower).

    I repeat British people face some of the highest energy bills in Europe – low prices are NOT the problem here.

    As for the Prime Minister. Mr Johnson has informed as all that “Kermit the Frog” (a fictional character) is mistaken – that is not hard to be “Green”, it is “easy” and “lucrative” to be “Green”.

    It is hard to know how to politely respond to the Prime Minister on this point – as people who believe in the human emissions of C02 cause harmful global warming theory do NOT believe it will be “easy” and “lucrative” to go “Green”. On the contrary – they admit that it is very expensive (hence the very high energy prices in the United Kingdom). For poor people, such as myself, it is rather irritating to be told that the “Green” agenda of very high energy prices is “easy” and “lucrative”.

    I am afraid that although a fictional character “Kermit the Frog” is correct on this point, and the Prime Minister is sadly mistaken.

  • Paul Marks

    Short version – it is not “energy price controls” that are the problem in the United Kingdom, it is energy taxes and cost increasing “Green” regulations that are the problem in the United Kingdom. At least from the point of view of ordinary people who have to pay energy bills.

  • Paul Marks

    Sorry if I seemed irritable. A few days ago I received notification of yet another massive price increase. So have little tolerance for the Financial Times and the Guardian – and their fantasies about what harm “price controls” are doing.

    There is no need for yet higher energy prices (yet again – they are some of the highest prices in Europe) or for “government intervention” to bail out energy companies. What is needed, if one wants ordinary people not to freeze to death over the winter, is LOWER gas and electricity prices – achieved by less government taxation and less cost increasing regulation.

  • Flubber

    What gets me is that this crisis was so easily predictable a decade ago.

    Our elites are useless fantasists. Now you can add dangerous to the description.

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    If only there were a way to extract the natural gas in the shale of northwest England we could be less reliant on the prices set by others.

  • Flubber

    If only there were a way to extract the natural gas in the shale of northwest England we could be less reliant on the prices set by others.

    Simple. Set all the environmentalists on fire first.

  • Sigivald

    Price controls lead to shortages?

    As if that’s EVER happened, right?

  • David Norman

    Yes, Kermit was right and BJ is wrong. Assuming you buy into the climate emergency narrative, which I don’t, it is extremely difficult to work out which options are the greenest. For example, the Government appears to want us to believe that buying a new electric car is the green option but in fact I would have to run my old banger for at least five years before there was any chance that it would emit the amount of CO2 emitted in the manufacture of a new electric car. Also, if I buy an electric car now most of the electricity it uses will come from fossil fuels. In green terms the Government’s position on this is absurd but it’s endless green rhetoric and the fact that the car companies have become economically vested in the development of electric cars makes a U turn away from electric cars unthinkable in practical terms.
    Of course this is far from being the only matter concerning the environment and energy where the Government’s position appears to be irrational.

  • Stonyground

    Just how stupid do you need to be to think that you can pass a law to make something cost less than it actually costs? If we put a price cap of £500 on Aston Martins everybody will be able to have one, is that how it works? Seeing as the NHS is in some kind of crisis (Isn’t it always?), why don’t we just apply an illness cap? Only easily and cheaply treated illnesses allowed. Problem solved.

  • Paul Marks

    Some of the highest energy prices in Europe – and this described as “price controls”.

    Perhaps I should refuse to pay the constantly increasing bills – after all I could say that these price increases violate the “price controls”.