Mandelson & other critics looking at energy policy from wrong angle

Photo: Christian Guthier

Photo: Christian Guthier

The Guardian are reporting that Peter Mandelson has spoken out about Ed Miliband’s plans to freeze energy prices in 2015. According to the newspaper, Labour’s former business secretary has said that “perceptions of Labour policy are in danger of being taken backwards”.

However, Mandelson is wrong on his judgment of Miliband’s policy.

Energy is something we all need in order to be able to live from day to day. It is not a choice, it is a necessity. As a result, energy companies hold the power to increase charges without the consumer having the power to chose whether they want to use energy or not. Additionally, electricity and gas bills rise when people’s wages don’t.

Taking all of this into account, we have a situation where a vital product is required at a cost which is becoming increasingly difficult for people to afford. Indeed, for societies most vulnerable, a weekly choice has to be made whether to buy food or heat their homes.

And this is the big difference between energy providers and other businesses. Energy use is not a choice, it’s a necessity; energy is not a luxury, it is how we stay warm, cook our food and light our homes. And that is why Ed Miliband’s policy is not an attack on business, but protection for consumers.

Furthermore, it has to be recognised that the price freeze is for twenty months and is not going to be enforced long term. It wont even be for the term of the next parliament. During this twenty month period, the aim is to reform the energy sector to get a fairer deal for customers.

And this is what the price cap is ultimately about. A period of reform during which time Labour will be putting the breaks on what Miliband has identified as overcharging. This will also in a sense give something back to customers who may have, according to Miliband, been overcharged for energy.

Therefore, Mandelson and other critics of the policy are looking at it from the wrong angle. This isn’t an argument about business v anti-business agenda. This is an argument about the price we pay for basic human rights. The price cap is to support consumers on the constant increase in cost for a vital product. It is a short term measure, for long term reform. It is to send a message that things cannot go on the way that they are.