Thursday, 26 September 2013

Love's Labour(s) Lost...?

It's Party Conference season and as might be expected the cognoscenti on politicalbetting and elsewhere are having a right old time praising their own side and slagging off their opponents. Apart from in the pages of the Daily Mail, where the party endured a daily round of opprobrium and vitriol, most sensible observers considered the Liberal Democrats to have had a pretty good week last week in Glasgow.

This week it's Labour who are gathering in Brighton and the storm of bile and vitriol which has greeted Party leader Ed Miliband's speech on Tuesday has been a wonder to behold. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the Conservatives are really worried and believe that they will lose the 2015 General Election.

Ed Miliband's commitment to freeze energy prices for the first two years of the next Labour Government has got the Tory drones jumping up and down in paroxysms of self-righteous indignation and the only reason for this is that they know (and last night's YouGov poll seemed to support the view) that Miliband has struck a chord with the public.

For all the neo-Stakhanovite use of statistics and the frantic talking-up of the economy by those Tory-inclined, the truth is that for very many people the years since 2009 have seen a steady erosion of living standards predicated on static or even declining wages while the costs of things like energy and getting around have risen far in excess of wage rises. For most people, there is and has been no "recovery" and it has only been the historically low levels of interest rates (and for those who complain about the Liberal Democrat plan to provide free school meals for five to seven year olds costing £600 million, compare and contrast with the £375 BILLION the Government and Bank of England have pissed up the wall under the heading of Quantitative Easing (QE) or in other words bailing out inept banks) which have kept households afloat.

Miliband recognises this and has latched on to what is a simple paradox of modern British society - those of my generation who remember when the State (directly or indirectly) ran everything have no argument with the view that private companies can and do run things better. The problem we have is when these companies make huge profits because the inescapable conclusion is that these profits are coming off the backs of the consumers who are often trapped with a single private provider for the service in question.

Ideally, we want the private sector to run the services but not to make any money from doing so. In seeking to cap energy prices, Miliband is seemingly taking the side of the consumer (or the taxpayer) against the overbearing corporations (many of whom are foreign-owned) whose cartelisation ensures that the consumer is trapped and compelled to keep paying for a service even if all they are doing is feathering the nest of shareholders or paying Directors' bonuses.

This is, I think, at the core of public dissatisfaction. Privatisation wasn't meant to be like this - we were meant to get competition, better services and lower prices. The fear among many is that the Royal Mail will go the same way with a deteriorating and more expensive service for rural and remote regions while the City gets a streamlined and cheap courier service.

The battle lines of 2015 are clearly being drawn as others have argued - it's crude to argue, as Allister Heath and his ilk have done, that Labour is anti-wealth and anti-business. Labour may be less favourable to BIG business than it was in the Blair years but it is also being much more pro-consumer.

Being pro-business may not be a huge help to the Conservatives who shouldn't underestimate the ordure in which banks still find themselves in the minds of many. It goes further than banks though - at a time of austerity, it behoves business not to seek to engorge themselves on profit but to seek to help the consumer or customer. The energy companies claim on one hand they are powerless in the face of global prices (which is true) but still seem able to rake in multi-million pound profits which, though probably justifiable in the detail, look and feel wrong to the struggling consumer.

Contrary to the ever-desperate whining of the Tory-inclines, I believe Ed Miliband is a step closer to Downing Street in 2015 at the end of this week. Next week it's David Cameron's turn. He has to convince the public that the recovery is for all of us not just for business and the banks.

1 comment:

Timothy (likes zebras) said...

I think the anger from Tories at the Miliband plan to freeze energy prices is anger that he has stolen this agenda from them.

Osborne and co. have actually done a fair bit to help most people with the cost of living. They have a fairly good tale to tell of low interest rates, the increases in the personal allowance, and in particular the many cancellations of planned increases to fuel duty.

Now Miliband has gazumped them with what is really a fairly modest proposal to freeze energy prices for a mere 20 months and one and a bit winters.

Miliband has done that thing which is so difficult for a Leader of the Opposition: he has seized the initiative. So rude!