Labour’s pledge to introduce an immediate emergency price cap on energy bills can only be a temporary measure, but it contrasts with the Tories’ utter paralysis on the issue.
Theresa May fished for votes in the general election by baiting her hook with an energy price cap for 17 million families whom many of her own backbenchers now describe as “preyed on” by the Big Six suppliers.
These 17 million families were effectively offered a £100 inducement to vote Tory and enough signed up to keep May in a job.
Having scraped back into office with a reduced majority and been forced into a humiliating formal arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party, the wobbling Prime Minister has since buried the energy price cap without trace.
Whether front-bench ideologues have persuaded her that the Tory Party has no business interfering in the workings of a so-called free market or she has simply developed a variant of the Huey “Tell ’em I lied” Long explanation of broken election promises is open to debate. But what is beyond discussion is that decades of privatised gas and electricity services have proved a goldmine for the privateers’ shareholders and a nightmare for consumers.
Thirteen years of New Labour government were barely distinguishable from experiences under the Tories, with or without their loyal Liberal Democrat acolytes.
So when Ed Miliband broke the consensus over leaving energy prices to the Big Six cartel overseen by a blind, weak and gummy Ofgem watchdog, suggesting an energy price freeze, he was denounced as a “Marxist” by then PM David Cameron and various City types.
He wasn’t and neither is an energy price freeze, but it would be a marked improvement on the current situation.
The cartel members can be expected to raise tariffs in quick succession when global wholesale prices go up.
They can equally be relied on to take their time before implementing wholesale reductions and even then by far less than the whole amount.
Ministers, watchdog and an entire growth industry of “shop around” advisers all chime in to point out that consumers have the remedy in their own hands and can switch supplier to access new payment plans to save money.
What they cannot envisage is a system that provides a safe, reliable and reasonably priced supply of gas and electricity without having billions of pounds siphoned off from consumers’ bills every year to enable parasitic shareholders and directors to live without effort.
Even growing numbers of Tory MPs can see that permitting private companies to engage in fictitious yet very profitable competition in natural monopolies is unsustainable and guaranteed to get up consumers’ noses.
Energy policy is a government Achilles’ Heel that can provide a focus for Labour’s attacks on the Tories’ economic approach designed to reward the few at the expense of the many.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s impressive shadow business secretary, insists that her party is prepared to take on the Big Six cartel and will impose a “hard” price cap on energy bills.
So far so good, but leaving the industry in private hands would leave consumers permanently in the profiteers’ grip.
One of the benefits of Britain leaving the European Union is that a Labour government could set up a public energy company or a number of public/co-operatively owned not-for-profit bodies to undermine the Big Six by offering services at the lowest prices without having to buy out the existing cartel.