Sunday, May 7, 2017


Has May pinched Corbyn’s policies (or at least Ed Miliband’s)?

I commented a short while ago  (on 25th April) on the very different treatments handed out to the idea of energy retail price caps, depending on whether they were proposed by Labour or Conservative administrations. To recall the discussion.

[2015]. The Telegraph said prices would go up before Miliband’s freeze, while the Times and the Sun warned the “lurch to the left” risked blackouts. The Times’s editorial described his plan as “flawed in practically every detail”. [2017] … on Sunday, the Sunday Times welcomed May’s price cap as an “attempt to capture the political centre ground”. [Guardian]

This was a timely posting. The FT reports today as follows.     Theresa May said during the Conservative party conference in October last year that she was planning to take action on high bills. Since then, the “big six” power companies have stopped trying to match or better the cheapest deals on the market, according to an analysis by price comparison website uSwitch.

So far this looks like first blood to the Daily Telegraph, as the big energy companies take pre-emptive action to raise prices or at least limit any pretence at aggressive competition. The FT also reports that: Iain Conn, chief executive of British Gas-owner Centrica, Britain’s biggest energy supplier to homes, has said there were people at the heart of the Tory government who “don’t believe in free markets”.  

Alternatively this could be interpreted simply as a recognition that in this particular industry, the principles of free markets and competition are beset by so many sources of market failure that some retreat from neo-liberal ideology was inevitable. An energy industry counterpoint came from Paul Massara, former chief executive of Npower, who said free market competition had not so far encouraged the majority of households to switch to cheaper deals. “Free markets haven’t worked and therefore you need to do something. The question is what is the right solution?”  [again according to the FT]

Watch this space. There will be many even more significant battles ahead within the Tory party around the broader questions of markets and “working for everyone”. But, I suspect, they will not be of great prominence in this election campaign.

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