In the Daily Telegraph today, Boris Johnson points out that Ed Milband’s energy freeze idea won’t work and he has no other solution to the UK’s problems. Boris begins: “I remember the time when it was absolutely clear how Labour was going to fight the election. They had a flagship policy, an idea that resonated across the country. Somehow or other, and in defiance of all known laws of economics, they were going to freeze the price of energy. Ed Miliband announced the idea in the autumn of 2013 – and immediately the party surged in the polls.
Yay, said the public: free money! Some of us pointed out that it is very difficult for politicians to intervene effectively in the price of commodities. The emperor Diocletian tried it – and gave up in humiliation after a few years. Not many have followed his example, and none successfully. Still, the punters believed it, and Labour remorselessly pushed that sole policy until it became their most famous proposal, their rallying cry, one of the few solid ideas in the general porridge of their anti-business agenda.
And then something unexpected happened: the oil price started to fall. Fracking was massively boosting production in America. The Saudis were turning on the taps – and keeping them on. Perhaps the Arabs were trying to undercut the frackers; perhaps they were trying to make life difficult for the Iranians. It didn’t matter. The cost of energy started to come down, and down – until suddenly there was the prospect of an actual cut for you and me.
The energy companies are now preparing a long-overdue reduction in their bills – and there is only one theoretical objection. What are they supposed to do if Labour gets in, and implement their “freeze”? What if the price “freeze” were to prevent the rapacious power companies from passing on further cuts to the consumer? In the last few weeks, it has seemed that Miliband was impaled on a ludicrous policy of insisting that energy prices should remain higher than the market demands. Now the Labour Party say that they didn’t mean to talk about a “freeze” at all; the idea was to have a “cap”.
Well, their propaganda has so far been exclusively about a freeze, and if there is to be a cap – then at what level? We don’t know; they can’t tell us. All we know is that the “freeze” policy has been junked; the flagship has been holed beneath the waterline. It was always a short-term policy, designed to drive a news agenda for a week or so. It was never part of a principled and rational agenda for government – and now it is dead.
No wonder that so many naturally bossy and Left-wing people are thinking of going for the Greens, rather than Labour. At least they have a world-view; at least they know what they think. For the last few years I have had the joy of engaging with the Greens in London, and I believe I understand their mindset pretty well. They don’t like capitalism, they don’t much like economic growth and they hate, hate, hate anything to do with the motor car. They especially hate and fear the advent of low-carbon vehicles, because they consider these to be an unfortunate diversion from their main purpose: to drive everyone out of private cars – with their horrid connotations of individual liberty and autonomy – and on to public transport.
On some points I agree with the Greens; on some I disagree strongly. But when I think of my friend Jenny Jones, now Baroness Jones, I see a doughty and often successful campaigner for a set of environmental or pseudo-environmental objectives. She was at all the mayoral debates in the run-up to the London election in 2012 and enlivened them. David Cameron is absolutely right in taking his stand on her behalf. Of course the Greens should be in the TV showdowns. They may be occasionally batty, but at least their case is gaining ground with the public, and at least it has some bravery and rigour about it. That is not the case with the hopeless hodge‑podge of Milibandery.
Just in the period since Christmas, the Labour Party seems to have executed no fewer than 21 U-turns – many of them junking their previous green policies. They were going to bring back a pro-bike quango called Cycling England; now they are not. They were going to ban food waste going to landfill; now they have given up. If the Greens are watermelons – Lefties disguised as environmentalists – then Miliband is a ripening tomato, moving conspicuously from green to red.
In fact, I am not sure how green Ed ever really was. His backers in the media claim that he was responsible for some kind of midnight breakthrough communiqué at the Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009.
Well, I was at Copenhagen, and I don’t remember any breakthrough at all – the whole thing was a fiasco – and I certainly don’t remember any intervention by Ed. And the reason I was there was because we in London were trying to promote a serious and sensible agenda for installing insulation, retrofitting homes, and so cutting fuel bills.
When we went to see the secretary of state at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (E Miliband) I was amazed by how little he seemed either to know or to care. He was much more interested in gossip than in a long-term programme for the country – and I fear the same is true today.
Yesterday’s paper contained a wonderful account of how he nearly died in a fire in Doncaster, during a long stay with the former mayor of that town. He took it into his head to move a convection heater off a pair of bricks and plonk it on the carpet. Both the carpet and the under-carpet ignited, and gave off such noxious vapours that Ed was sitting zonked in an armchair, in danger of being asphyxiated – until he was saved by his quick-thinking neighbour, who tipped him into the garden.
Miliband later made amends by buying a carpet to cover the burns, though the effect was slightly spoiled when his hosts realised that it was a Muslim prayer mat.”
Boris concludes: “What’s that burning smell? It’s another giant hole appearing in Ed Miliband’s policies – and there isn’t a mat big enough to cover them.”