Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/418/4757
'Free market' threatens cold weather crisis
ON THE brink of a cold winter, Britain faces a real threat of gas shortages. The Independent had a "worst case-scenario" where many homes went without heat in the coldest spells, with fatalities reaching tens of thousands, the old, poor and unwell being at most risk.
The bosses' organisation, the CBI, also raised the prospect of a three-day week in industry with potentially severe effects on the economy.
The immediate cause of the crisis is lack of gas reserves. Britain has 11 days worth of reserves - the average elsewhere in Europe is 55 days. The fears are that even these depleted stocks could evaporate within a week of continuous sub-zero temperatures.
As current North Sea gas fields run low, there has been a serious lack of investment in new pipelines and storage facilities, and in alternative forms of sustainable energy. This problem has been made worse by rising fuel prices, with imports from Europe being scarce and very expensive to procure.
In Parliament, Blair accused the Tories of wanting "a return to a planned economy" after Michael Howard lambasted him for letting the winter crisis situation develop. Of course, the Tories themselves privatised the gas industry in 1986.
Since privatisation and deregulation, Britain has moved from being a net exporter of natural gas to a net importer. This process turned the industry from being one of Europe's cheapest, with plentiful gas reserves for potential situations like the one we face, into a 'for profit only' shambles, with the ability only to make money.
The system falls to pieces when faced with a situation where planning and organisation are needed to do the job. Yet Labour not only refused to renationalise the energy industry, but also enthusiastically promoted the "free market" as providing all the solutions. Blair claims that the energy crisis "does not lie within the remit of the government to resolve", shocking even Tories with his faith in 'neo-liberalism.'
What then is needed to keep Britain's pensioners and poor warm during cold spells? What is needed to stop people dying in their homes in one of the world's richest countries?
Immediately, we need to renationalise gas and electricity. Beyond that the answer is indeed a planned economy, a socialist society; a system where the working class takes the resources that we have at our disposal out of the hands of a tiny clique of fat cats, and nationalises and democratically runs and controls them for the needs of working-class people.
We don't want a society where the massive profits made every day just line the pockets of the rich. We want a society that invests into new methods of gas extraction and new environmentally safer forms of energy supply; building up a healthy, cheaply available reserve of energy, for emergency situations like the one we face.
In The Socialist 1 December 2005: