Labour’s energy policy is moving beyond slogans

By Dan Julian, Account Executive

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, one frequent criticism has been that, on headline policies such as renationalisation, the party has been heavy on slogans but light on detail. In 2019 the leadership has gone about fixing that. 

In May, the Labour Party announced their proposals to renationalise the energy networks if they win the next election. While they skipped the fanfare that often accompanies these set piece announcements – they didn’t bother with a speech and only put out a press release the night before – their ‘Bringing Energy Home’ paper was incredibly detailed and it sets out clearly how Labour would go about renationalising the energy companies. Their announcement included more than just taking back control of the networks, it specified in detail why such a move would benefit consumers, help tackle climate change, and bring more democratic oversight to public utilities. 

This came only a few weeks after John McDonnell spoke at the launch of the Progressive Economy Forum’s report on Universal Basic Income and a few weeks before another Labour-backed review proposed the biggest shake-up of Britain’s tax system in a century, with ideas such as the introduction of a Land Value Tax and replacing Inheritance Tax with a Lifetime Gifts Tax being welcomed by the Labour leadership. Labour has since announced they will be piloting UBI if they win the next election and we can expect any new commitment on tax to be more radical than anything they proposed in 2017.

Looking back at Labour’s 2017 manifesto, some of the most eye-catching announcements such as renationalising key utilities, scrapping tuition fees and creating a National Education Service were merely slogans used to create dividing lines between Labour and the Tories – or ‘between the many and the few’, as the leadership sees it. Labour under Corbyn has always had an overarching narrative to sell to voters and now they’re putting some much-needed flesh on the bones to prove they have a concrete plan for government.

But there is a bigger point that emerges from these announcements. Take the energy nationalisation paper. Labour, since Jeremy Corbyn’s initial election as leader, have often used ‘renationalisation’ as a soundbite to show that the party had moved to the left. The announcement in May shows that the Labour leadership is committed to more than just public ownership – they believe in a vastly different model of governance for public utilities. The current plans combine the traditional baseline of public ownership with decentralisation and a move to a mutualised system rooted in the cooperative movement. This comes as a new think tank on the left – ‘Common Wealth’ – was launched in April specifically to look at new models of ownership, with former leader Ed Miliband closely involved and John McDonnell and his team also supportive. This will only help to increase the profile of these ideas across the wider left movement.

And there is no reason to believe Labour will stop here. In the past the leadership has often used recess and the run-up to annual conference to announce more detailed policies. While the next few weeks will see the Conservative Party in the media spotlight, an eye-catching announcement would be the best way to draw a dividing line with the incoming Prime Minister once the contest is over.

The big challenge now for Corbyn and McDonnell is to balance their domestic agenda – which is what they actually care about – with their supporters and the wider public’s preoccupations over Brexit. But with a Conservative leadership contest under way and a possible early election on the horizon Labour is making big strides towards having a detailed plan for government – and there has been very little attention paid to it. Only time will tell if their hard work pays off and hands them the keys to Downing Street.

Get in Touch

Dan Julian

Account Executive

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