Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Miliband and mesmerised media - no energy for real change

So, Labour leader Ed Miliband has pledged to freeze energy prices for 20 months if elected in 2015. 
Sometimes one needs an energy boost just to read what passes for 'radical' policy and the media's energised coverage of it. 
It's not just that Miliband is promising electoral sweeties. It's the stark poverty of political reform and shallow critique that follows such announcements.

Here, for example, is Jonathan Freedland's excited take on Labour's 'new left populist' sell:
The new approach will bring relief to both the shadow cabinet and Labour MPs. They have struggled to explain what one nation means, to convert an academic insight into a doorstep-ready pitch. Now they have a set of specifics, tailormade for retail – with the 20-month freeze on energy bills bound to be the first sample pulled from the salesman's suitcase. 
Like one of the shark-competing energy companies it affects to indict, Labour unveils its 'switch-over-to-us-for-a-fixed-rate (but only for 20 months)' offer, and it's treated like some great electrical bolt from above. This is the outer limits of political-media 'challenge' to neoliberal 'reality'. 
Of course, there's no promise to slash household energy bills. No notion of bringing such companies to serious, even criminal, account. And certainly no intention (how apparently laughable) of taking them into public ownership, stripping-out grossly-overpaid executives and a parasitical shareholder class.    
Nor is the issue of energy usage/costs ever linked to the emergency situation of global warming, mass consumer waste and the case for radical environmental sustainability.   
For Labour and a liberal commentariat, the core 'problem' here is one of 'market inefficiency':
As the Guardian's political correspondent, Patrick Wintour, amplifies:
Ed Miliband has written to the big six energy firms urging them to co-operate with his plan to impose a 20-month price freeze and reset the energy market, or instead be seen as part of the problem in the energy market. The companies have reacted with fury to his plans, saying he is risking power blackouts and sending a message that Britain is not open for business. They said he was threatening much-needed investment in green energy as rightwing newspapers accused him of swerving to the left.
Thus, for Miliband, the market itself is not the problem, just the now-so-embarrassingly-obvious grab within such markets. All that's needed, then, is a little tweaking of those market arrangements, a little squeeze on those considerable profits, which can be used, in this case, as a cheap electoral bribe.
Cue predictable reactions from furious energy chiefs, defiant rebukes from 'people-championing' Labourites and a gazing media swooned by these oh-so-daring pledges.  
And isn't it always useful to note, as in Wintour's lame panderings, that lofty liberal distance between Guardianista 'reformers' and all those right wing scaremongers. 

The' leftist' alternative? The most sensible solution for Miliband - and seemingly for the Guardian? Even greater competition.

Wintour goes on:
Miliband insisted he wanted greater competition in the market and in his letter argued: "We can work together on the basis of this price freeze to make the market work in the future. Or you can reinforce in the public mind that you are part of the problem, not the solution." He said there was a crisis of confidence and loss of trust in the energy market. [...] "I'm determined to make this change and I've written to them today to say: 'Look come on, make yourself part of the solution, not part of the problem. There's a crisis of confidence in this market. There's a crisis of confidence in you.'"
As Wintour and his Guardian peers should be noting, the crisis is not just in "this market", but in the people-dismissing, capitalist market at large. 

Corporations are profit-grabbing entities. That's what they do. Definitively.  So, how easy, safe and hypocritical for corporate-facilitating politicians and a corporate-centred media to round on corporate excess.

The actual crisis of 'confidence' here lies not with the energy companies or any other money-driven corporation. Their primary motivation and function -greed and profit - is already established.

The real crisis of confidence, massively hidden by such diversionary speeches and reportage, lies in the complicit actions of a political class who allow, promote and excuse such market greed, and with a functionary media which says almost nothing to expose or challenge such manipulation and deceit.


Michael Stephenson said...

Media companies should be "not for profit" organisations by law. That's a real radical policy Miliband should adopt.

Rose said...

Another good piece John.
The whole thing strikes me as an elaborately rehearsed piece of pantomime: a really radical (not) announcement is made by what passes for the Opposition; the manufactured shock to it is breathlessly reported by the usual suspects; little Nick Robinson, eyes like chapel hat pegs, whips himself into a frenzy, and nowhere is there any attempt to debate the real issues - as you so eloquently say. Thanks.

John Hilley said...

Thanks, Michael and Rose.

Yes, the media frenzy over this actually modest proposal - 'what will the market-makers think, won't it scare business?' etc, etc - shows just how conditioned Robinson et al are to the corporate orthodoxy.


Andy said...

There is no difference at all between the major parties policies. They all work for their own self interest and so while Miliband waxes lyrical over energy prices , the Post Office sell off is being slid through the back door and therein lies the problem. The most important industries that we all rely on have been sold off on the cheap. This is the reason for all the lies about 'saving tax payers money' . It doesn't save 'our money' it just puts profit more efficiently into the already stinking rich and of course gives these people a steady source of income that needs no imagination and can be relied on. Good post John

John Hilley said...

Thanks, Andy. Well said.

John Hilley said...

And an excellent blog you have there. Great to see.