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.

CREDIT: CREATIVE COMMONS
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A group of men united only by sport was once my idea of hell. What changed?

It struck me, during the course of our team’s annual pre-season dinner, how much I like my team-mates. 

To the cricket team’s annual pre-season dinner. Although I’ve been playing for them for ten years or so, I’ve never been to one of these. This is because when I say “I’ve been playing for them for etc…” you’re probably not getting the right picture. What I mean is: I have played ten matches for them, and last year not at all, with a highest score of 22, and an average of 10.17. If you think that’s unimpressive, it’s a lot better than when I was a schoolboy, and I am just 26th placed out of 50 people who have played ten or more matches for them. Last year I was 25th, I see. Well, I’m going to have to do something about that.

The idea is that if I go to the dinner this time, it will inspire me to get in shape and play a game or two this season. I almost invariably enjoy it when I do, especially the time I was in a record-breaking tenth-wicket partnership of 72 while batting with a broken hand. (Well, finger. But a finger’s a part of the hand, isn’t it? Even the little finger.) I suppose there are times when I don’t enjoy it so much, such as when it’s raining hard enough for the cows in neighbouring fields to sit under a tree, but not hard enough to send us back to the pavilion or, better still, the pub, and the opposition are clouting us all over the ground despite the weather, and if we’d batted first – we never bat first, in my (limited) experience – the other lot would have polished us off about an hour ago, and we could now all be cosily inside the pavilion or, as I said earlier, even better, the pub. Then again, the team is called the Rain Men, so what did I expect?

So signing up for games involves considering a number of factors: some kind of mystic calculation about what the weather will be like, an assessment of how far away the ground is (we’re a nomadic team, so we don’t have one of our own), and how fit I think I’m going to be on the day. That’s the troublesome part. There is, of course, the melancholy of coming back, aching and knackered, at what is usually well after nine in the evening on a Sunday, lugging a cricket bag, like someone who has not been able to let go of his childhood and is out after his bedtime.

The fitness, as I said, is problematic. I got slightly out of puff going for a pee between the second and third paragraphs of this column, so I think there is going to be a lot of tedious spadework in store for me. My dumb-bells are in East Finchley, which I don’t go to, although as my cricket stuff is there too I suppose I’m going to have to bite that bullet sooner or later. If I eschew the dumb-bells then there will always be the floor, gravity, and push-ups. There will always be stairs, somewhere, I can run up and down, while I have the use of my legs. While there is an earth I can walk upon, I can walk upon it. The upper body strength, so I can pick up a cricket bat without falling over, is the thing to aim for, but right now the main goal is to be able to get out of bed and go to the loo without getting winded.

Anyway, the dinner. I decided that I’d walk to the restaurant. This was largely because the restaurant is about 200 yards from where I am holed up at the moment. There is, literally, only one restaurant closer to me. I walked a bit more than 200 yards because I had to swing by Sainsbury’s to pick up a couple of bottles of wine (the McGuigan’s Reserve Cab Sauv at £6.50 a bot, special offer, being the sedative of choice these days), as the restaurant is unlicensed. We met at the pub first, of course.

It struck me, during the course of the evening, how much I like my team-mates. I am by no means the oldest, so many of them are rich in wisdom and experience. (Amazingly, the team won more games last season than it has in its history, but that might have been because I hadn’t played for them.) Two of the people I am particularly fond of couldn’t make it, but at least I got to have A Long Rant About Life In General with Marcus Berkmann, author of two extremely amusing books about the team (Rain Men and Zimmer Men), as well as the greatest book about Star Trek ever written (Set Phasers to Stun).

Imagine: a long table sat at by a group of about 15 men, united only by a sport. It would once have been my idea of hell. So why is it not now? Is it because I actually like these guys? They’re not the typical idea of a cricket club gang, I have to say that. And we do, admittedly, talk about cricket a fair amount. But still. (I even liked I—, who gave up smoking and then had a rush of blood to the head last year and sent a round-robin email to the team saying how much he hated A—, one of our most lovable players. I— couldn’t make it to the dinner, largely on the grounds of not having been invited.) Or am I that lonely? 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 12 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Syria’s world war