The Week in Review: Miliband sets his trap

Ed Miliband at the Labour party conference in Brighton
Ed Miliband at the Labour party conference in Brighton
Adam Bienkov By

It was a trap so obvious, it's amazing anyone decided to step into it.

Ed Miliband's pledge to freeze energy bills was a shark pit so clearly marked you could make it out at fifty paces during a power cut. "Please step into it," the Labour leader all but shouted from the conference stage. Please for the love of God just dip your toes in.

While senior Tories loitered gingerly around the edges, Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey pulled on his trunks and dived straight into the cool dark waters below. "Labour risk the lights going out," he declared, warning that energy bosses would be starved of the "investment" they so dearly needed.

If there was any doubt whose side he was on, a picture of Davey grinning with energy company execs quickly removed it. "Congratulations to @eonenergyuk for winning the best commercial exhibition stand award at at #ldconf" his press office tweeted, in the most banal yet poorly time tweet of the year.

Before long other government figures were jumping into the shark infested waters, with half the British press cheering them on from the side. Red Ed is taking Labour back to the seventies, they protested, as polls showed overwhelming support for his plans. A price freeze would be economic vandalism, they repeated, as Labour regained a nine point lead in the polls.

Even Peter Mandelson, a man who was twice forced to resign over his dealings with businessmen, joined in defence of the energy companies. The Labour leader really couldn't have hoped for more.

By now the dividing line was so clear Miliband hardly even needed to point it out. People must decide if they're "part of the problem or part of the solution" he explained calmly. "The Conservative party will support [the energy companies], but I'm in a different place. I'm standing up for the British people".

By now the government had realised the scale of their error. "Won't somebody think of the energy bosses?" is never going to be an election winning slogan. By coming out so strongly against freezing energy bills they risked confirming all of the worst stereotypes about the coalition. As they clambered onto their lifeboats, Michael Gove was the first to grab at the oars.

"One thing that Ed Miliband did get right is that the energy prices at the moment are too high," he told the Question Time audience on Thursday. "I do take what [energy companies] say with a pinch of salt actually."

At the start of the week, Miliband's opponents were thrilled at his apparent lurch to the left. By the end of the week, many of them were lurching along with him.


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