The vast majority of the public back Labour’s plan to freeze energy bills until April 2023, a poll has found, with 85% of Conservative voters supporting the proposal.
Labour announced on Monday that it would freeze gas and electricity prices immediately, keeping the energy price cap at its current level of £1,971 until April next year – a move it said would save the typical household £1,000.
The poll, conducted by Opinium on behalf of campaigning organisation 38 Degrees, found that 86% of the public backed freezing the price cap, including an overwhelming majority of current Tory voters. Nine in ten Labour voters were in favour of the proposal.
The research also found strong support among voters of all parties for temporarily renationalising energy companies if they are unable to offer lower bills – with 82% of Labour voters and 72% of Tory voters backing the idea.
The polling was conducted following the publication of an article by Gordon Brown in The Guardian last week, in which the former Prime Minister called for the price cap to be frozen and proposed that energy companies that cannot offer lower bills be temporarily brought into public ownership as a “last resort”.
Announcing Labour’s plan to support households with the rising cost of energy, Keir Starmer said the party is “not going to stand by” while millions struggle to pay their bills this autumn.
Labour said its plan – which would cost £29bn – could be funded by backdating the windfall tax to include excess profits made since January, closing the loophole in the levy allowing tax relief on fossil fuel investment, halting the proposed £400 payments for all households and lowering government interest payments on debt.
Asked why the party is not considering nationalising energy companies, in light of the cost of the proposed plan, the Labour leader told BBC Radio 4: “Under our plan, fully-costed, every single penny will go on keeping those prices frozen and not allowing them to go up.”
He argued: “If we were to add nationalisation to our plan and add more cost to it through that, that would mean using the money to pay shareholders because you don’t nationalise for free, you’ve got to compensate the shareholders.
“So I would be having to come on your programme and say ‘I’m going to use x billion pounds not to reduce the bills for millions of people in the autumn, but actually to compensate shareholders’.”
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said Labour’s plan was a “step forward from what’s been proposed until now” but added that a “piecemeal approach won’t work”.
She declared: “Britain’s real crisis isn’t rising prices – it’s an epidemic of unfettered profiteering. Energy firms, like Scottish Power, owned by Spain’s Ibedrola, or the French state-owned EDF, own huge swathes of our energy supply.
“It seems that public ownership is only to be heralded as long as it is not the British people doing the owning.”
Momentum co-chair Hilary Schan said: “Instead of proposing to shell out tens of billions of pounds subsidising energy companies, Labour should be arguing for public ownership, at a fraction of the price. It’s the common sense solution, backed by most voters, and the best way to keep soaring bills down.”
The TUC set out a plan in July to keep bills down through public ownership of energy companies. It estimated that nationalising the ‘big five’ energy retail companies – British Gas, E.ON, EDF, Scottish Power and Ovo – would cost £2.85bn.
Appearing on Sky News this morning, Ed Miliband said nationalising energy companies “wouldn’t be a solution to the problem we face” when asked about the cost of Labour’s plan to support households.
The Shadow Climate Change and Net Zero Secretary declared: “We have an energy company in the public sector, that’s Bulb Energy. That went bust as a result of terrible government regulation. Bulb will demand this subsidy as well.
“So there are longer-term issues we’ve got to look at in relation to ownership, and we’ve said that many times. But, in terms of this crisis, in terms of this crisis we face, we want every penny to go to help cut people’s bills, and that is what yesterday’s announcement delivers.”