Ed Miliband delivers his speech at the Labour conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Exclusive: The government's private assessment of Labour's energy price freeze

A report on the policy by the Department of Energy and Climate Change is released following a freedom of information request by the New Statesman.

No policy announced by an opposition party in recent years has had more political impact than Labour's proposed energy price freeze. It succeeded in shifting the economic debate from the deficit towards living standards (where it has largely remained since) and left the Tories in a strategic tailspin. The eventual reduction in green levies announced in last year's Autumn Statement would have been unthinkable without Ed Miliband's pledge. 

Given the political and economic significance of the policy, I recently submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) requesting a copy of their private assessment of the price freeze. After months of waiting, with DECC securing several time extensions, I have now received the 32-page report, which you can read in full below. (It is notably replete with spelling and grammatical errors, for instance, "Chuka Uma" and "Peter Mandelson came out criticising the move ass counterproductive".)

The document has been redacted to exclude an assessment of the legal position and comparisons with similar policies, but offers a useful insight into how the department and others view the measure. Here are some of the most notable extracts.

European reactions and policy (p.9): "The issue has been raised with UK officials" 

The department notes that "the issue of energy prices is coming up the agenda in Europe" and that "the issue has been raised with UK officials by both the EIB [European Investment Bank] and the CION [European Commission]". It adds: "As a general position, the Commission doesn't favour regulated prices (albeit that there is express provision for them in the Electricity and Gas Directives) and it's contrary to the direction of travel on the internal energy market (which is focused on market-based pricing)."

"The Commission has made it clear that it will continue to take cases against Member States where price regulations don't meet EU law conditions. The most recent action of this type is against Poland's gas price regulation (on the basis that there is no time limit and prices apply to to all non-household users regardless of size.) Other actions have included investigations into France and Spain's price regulation on similar grounds."

Ministerial response (p. 30): "Ministers acknowledged that cost of living was an issue" 

In its round-up of ministerial reaction to the policy, DECC writes that "Comment from Government Ministers initially focussed on the prospect of blackouts and the lack of investment (particularly from abroad). As the debate progressed, Ministers acknowledged that cost of living was an issue, and that the best way to address that was right investment now (for example nuclear and fracking). Michael Gove sad [sic] he took the predictions of blackouts with a "pinch of salt". However, he acknowledging [sic] that energy prices were a big issue in the cost of living debate, but argued the Conservatives were addressing these." 

Polling on the price freeze (p.31): "Some polls are predicting Labour could tip the balance...enough to win the 2015 election" 

In its summary of polling on the issue, the department notes that "The polls point to the announcement being generally popular among voters. The YouGov poll reported in the sun [sic] shows over half (58%) of voters do not believe the government's 'scaremongering' predictions of power cuts. Polls show Miliband's popularity has increased and that he (and labour) 'stand up for' ordinary consumers."

In what appears to be a reference to Lord Ashcroft's recent marginals polling, it also notes that "Some polls are predicting labour [sic] could tip the balance enough in marginal [sic] to win the 2015 election."

Labour response (p.31): "Ed Balls and Chuka Uma [sic] noted the risk to Labour's relationship with business" 

The department summarises the response from Miliband's own party, noting that "Interestingly...an unnamed senior shadow minister conceded the policy risked being subject to judicial review". It also writes that "Ed Balls and Chuka Uma [sic] noted the risk to Labour's relationship with business, but that energy was a big part of business' costs. He also reiterated that fairer market [sic] would be a better environment for long-term investment" 

Referring to Peter Mandelson's public criticism of the policy, DECC notes "Peter Mandelson came out criticising the move ass [sic] counterproductive and poor for investment. Lord Myners took a similar critical stance. Much Labour comment in the first few days, however, was critical of Mandelson, in particular pointing out his connections to the energy industry, and his part in the windfall tax in the '90s." 

It adds: "Other comment was around the 'entrenched Big Six', and Caroline flint [sic] noted the Big Six may be opverplaying [sic] their hand as they were already offering fixed deals to 2017." 

SNP reaction (p.31): "A potential split in the party"

DECC highlights "A potential split" in the SNP with "Fergus Ewing ruling-out a freeze in the event of independence, but the left-wing of the party remaining open minded, awaiting the analysis." 

Trade unions (p.30): "Little comment"

"Little comment from unions other than GMB: 'Labour are stepping in where Ofgem has failed.'" 

Other reaction (p.31): "We may wish to renationalise essential elements of our infrastructure"

"Although other comments have praise for Labour's proposal many, again, focus on the detriment to investment and energy security. An interesting point made by Kevin McCullough [chief executive of UK Coal] is that although energy companies may not up sticks, they will focus efforts in other more profitable countries. He suggests that we may wish to renationalise essential elements of our infrastructure. Some used the announcement to call for investment in nuclear; and other comment focusses on going back to the old days of more socialist policies." 

Government assessment of Labour's energy price freeze

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.