Ed Miliband: The Officer of Fair Trading

by Charlie_East_West on September 26, 2013

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Since his hugely significant Conference speech, Ed Miliband appears to have replaced the Office of Fair Trading as the UK’s consumer and competition authority. He has taken on the OFT mission to make markets work well for consumers. Ed Miliband has become our Officer of Fair Trading.

Good on him. He has picked a fight with the energy companies over pricing. What next? A fight over rail pricing? A fight over hidden bank charges? A fight over telephone call charges? A fight over water rates? I bloody well hope so.

Ed Miliband is onto something here. During Miliband’s conference speech he cleverly highlighted the unfairness within our society and the “race to the bottom” – he targeted the unethical malpractices of big business and the associative support given by the Tories. He has now given himself the opportunity to target greedy corporates in a way that will resonate with the public. This was a key theme that ran right through Ed Miliband’s speech – the creation of a new easy to understand version of left wing populism, with the potential to shift the centre ground consensus towards the left.

It is a 2013 version of Margaret Thatcher’s targeting of the Trade Unions. Welcome to the beginnings of Milibandism – replace attacking Trade Unions, and instead, attack big business. Actually, that isn’t true. Miliband has picked a fight with the trade unions as well over Labour Party funding.

The right wing and the big business lobby have predictably reacted like Mrs Rochester being released from the attic. Angela Knight, the boss of Energy UK, said: “It will also freeze the money to build and renew power stations, freeze the jobs and livelihoods of the 600,000-plus people dependent on the energy industry and make the prospect of energy shortages a reality, pushing up the prices for everyone.” – This is coming from someone who, as head of the British Bankers ­Association supported and justified performance-related bonuses during the ­financial crisis in 2008.

Sir Roger Carr, the head of Centrica, the owner of British Gas, went even further – saying Miliband’s proposed 20 month energy price cap could lead to firms’ “economic ruin”.

Pleasingly, Ed Miliband has ignored the threats and blackmail from the energy lobby, and has upped the ante since his Conference speech. He has since accused the energy firms of issuing “threats and scare stories” about Labour’s planned price freeze. He also claimed that the energy companies were “unreliable witnesses” and dismissed fears his price capping move would lead to blackouts. And, he warned the Big Six power firms they faced a massive public backlash if they jacked up bills before the freeze came into force in 2015.

He has public support on this issue. A YouGov poll showed 83% of the public felt the energy firms maximised their profits at expense of customers. The survey also found that high energy bills were seen as the “number one threat to the economy” ahead of unemployment, interest rates and inflation.

I hope Ed Miliband sticks to his guns here and holds his nerve. I hope he keeps his own energy levels up to continue a daily crusade against energy companies and other greedy corporates in other sectors such as telecommunications, rail, banking and health. Also, he needs to identify other hugely attractive left wing policies that the public will grasp and support.

Ed Miliband has the opportunity to be a man of the people. Ed Miliband can be our Officer of Fair Trading.

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