Pete Mason, East London Socialist Party
Energy companies emit vast amounts of greenhouse gasses

Energy companies emit vast amounts of greenhouse gasses   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

A Labour government would temporarily freeze energy prices, Ed Miliband announced at Labour Party conference.

A recent study predicts that three million households will be in fuel poverty by 2016, while YouGov showed that 83% think the ‘big six’ energy companies maximise their profits at our expense.

But a recent ComRes poll found that two-thirds of the population favour renationalisation of the energy firms.

Although Miliband’s announcement has been widely welcomed, it clearly does not go nearly far enough.

Miliband wrote to the ‘big six’ asking them to make themselves ‘part of the solution’. This is pointless pleading.

They are part of the capitalist system which Labour embraces, a system which is motivated by profit whatever the cost to people and the environment.

The central concern of companies such as British Gas, the French-owned EDF, or German-owned E.On and npower, is not the satisfaction of customers, or global warming, or even the supply of energy, but purely of profit.

Phil Bentley, former boss of Centrica (British Gas) is reported to have snatched a £15 million package in pay, shares and pension pot when he left in June 2013, for 13 years’ service.

In February, Centrica committed to spending £500 million on buying back its own shares to burn up some of its ‘surplus capital’ – the huge profits Centrica has been making at our expense.

Meanwhile annual dual fuel bills of £1,420 force millions into poverty and increase the food bank queues.

Despite his touching faith in ‘responsible capitalism’, Miliband inadvertently reminded the public that the market system is a complete failure.

In a letter to the energy sharks Miliband said the market in energy which emerged from privatising our energy industry has ‘consistently failed’ both the public and the investment needs of Britain.

The ‘big six’ have threatened a boycott of investment: Miliband’s attack, they say, would “freeze the money to build and renew power stations, freeze the jobs and livelihoods” of 600,000 workers, Energy UK which represents British energy firms, told the media.

Socialist solution

Since this mess was created by privatisation, the socialist solution is nationalisation. But this time, instead of leaving the old bosses in charge, with the old regime of anti-worker mismanagement and corruption, a nationalised energy industry should be managed democratically, centred around elected representatives of the workers through their unions, who would remain on a skilled workers’ wage. Compensation could be paid – but only on the basis of proven need.

In addition, the oil and transport industries should be nationalised in the same way. This would allow a socialist government to democratically discuss and develop, with workers representatives and others, a plan of production which would begin with the needs of ordinary workers. The thieving bosses and the failed free market ‘competition’ would be removed.

A socialist plan of production would turn the huge profits of these central sections of the UK economy to lowering prices and at the same time turning the industry over to carbon-free technology.

Fracking, which releases potent greenhouse gases and carcinogens, could be immediately banned with alternative equivalent employment offered to any workers affected.

It can’t be left up to the energy industry to save the environment – in reality they consider solar and wind energy a threat to their profits.

A socialist plan for energy drawn up democratically would create employment on a very large scale, while aiming to close down power stations such as Drax, Britain’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. It emits more than the whole of Sweden.

Instead of this genuine socialist vision, all we get from Miliband is the aim to create a ‘fairer market’.

He threatened to crackdown on “unfair” pricing policies of the energy companies when he became Climate Change and Energy Secretary in 2008.

And the result was? In 2009, British Gas profits went up by 80%. It’s like listening to a broken record.

Is Labour conference anything more than a publicity stunt? When the conference voted overwhelmingly for renationalisation of the railways, the Guardian reported that senior Labour sources made it clear the party was not in favour of renationalisation, signalling that the leadership was prepared to ignore the motions in its election manifesto.

We don’t need media stunts. We urgently need to build a new mass workers’ party which is prepared to break with big business, stand up for working class people, and save the planet.