Labour would build us out of affordable housing crisis
WMN London editor Graeme Demianyk reports from the Labour Party Conference in Brighton.
Gas and electricity prices will be frozen for homes and businesses for 20 months after the 2015 general election if Labour wins power, Ed Miliband announced yesterday.
The dramatic announcement – which Labour said would save the typical household £120 and an average business £1,800 between May 2015 and January 2017 – was the highlight of a crucial 63-minute conference speech, which was delivered without notes.
Mr Miliband denounced the coalition Government and repeatedly declared: "Britain can do better than this."
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He made a slew of commitments, offering an £800 million tax break to small businesses and promising to build 200,000 new homes a year, set a target for switching to 100% green energy by 2030, strengthen the minimum wage, help create more than 100,000 new apprenticeships and repeal the so-called "bedroom tax".
Mr Miliband's proposal of state action to fix prices – the first such move since the 1970s – comes in a week when he has told Labour supporters that he is "bringing back socialism".
Critics are likely to invoke the "Red Ed" moniker and accuse the Labour leader of a lurch to the left, and will point to his vow to tax big business more and seize land which developers refuse to build on.
But his energy promise came just days after consumer group Which? reported that households have been paying £3.9 billion a year over the odds for their gas and electricity, with Mr Miliband hoping to tap into public frustration with utility firms.
He addressed head-on the doubts about his personality reflected in polls, insisting that he had shown "leadership" in taking on media mogul Rupert Murdoch and stopping British military action in Syria, and challenging David Cameron and the Conservatives: "If they want to have a test about leadership and character, be my guest."
Pitching the 2015 general election as a battle with Conservatives who had allowed the proceeds of recovery to go to the "privileged few", he said: "Britain's best days lie ahead. Britain can do better than this. We're Britain, we're better than this. I will lead a Government that fights for you."
But CBI director general John Cridland said that businesses would view it as "a setback for Labour's pro-enterprise credentials" and Conservative chairman Grant Shapps said: "It's the same old Labour."
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat Energy Minister Ed Davey warned energy price fixing led to black-outs in California while others raised questions over whether it was legal.
Labour has already announced it will legislate to introduce more competition into the energy market, and will replace regulator Ofgem with a new watchdog with sharper teeth. But Mr Miliband said that these reforms will not kick in until the start of 2017 and he was not willing to wait that long to take action – hence the freeze.
Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, praised a "good rousing speech". "I welcomed him tackling the leadership question head on and comparing his willingness to take tough decisions and stand up to the powerful and vested interests with Cameron's bowing before them," he added.
Alison Seabeck, Labour MP for Plymouth Moor View, said the falling standards of living was the key issue for voters, adding: "It was the speech of the potential Prime Minister."