DAVID Cameron will not win the general election merely by dismissing Ed Miliband’s promise to bring in an energy price freeze as a “1970s socialist” idea, Margaret Thatcher’s advertising guru has warned.
Lord Saatchi, a former Conservative Party chairman, cautioned against underestimating the potency of the Opposition leader’s argument on wealth inequality and energy bills.
Mr Miliband has said the Labour party would freeze gas and electricity bills for every home and business in the UK for 20 months if it wins the 2015 election. In response, the Prime Minister has repeatedly deployed a “same old Labour” line, and in his conference speech this month he vowed to crush “1970s-style socialism”.
British Gas last week became the second of the Big Six energy companies to hike its bills by 9.2 per cent, following Perth-based SSE, which announced an 8.2 per cent rise a week earlier.
The latest round of price increases sparked fears other suppliers may follow suit. Smaller supplier Co-operative Energy also said last week that it would increase its bills, although by the lesser amount of 4.5 per cent.
Lord Saatchi said the last few decades had seen the creation of “global cartels” in areas such as banking and energy, where there was a “huge imbalance of power between the individual customer and the giant corporation”.
Writing in a Sunday newspaper, he said: “The overwhelming power of money in such a climate is a dangerous moment for Conservatism. What scares people most is soon money will talk in health as well as everything else … People may conclude they need someone to protect them from that kind of ‘free market’, such as, perhaps, the state. This is why Labour thinks they have struck gold with a state price freeze on energy.”
Lord Saatchi said Tories should not be so quick to welcome Mr Miliband’s apparent shift to the Left. “Many Conservatives rejoice at this news, that Labour is again about to sign ‘the longest suicide note in history’,” he wrote. “Is that true? It’s been 21 years since the Conservative Party won an election.
“You hear it said that the party was unlucky to have a succession of five leaders with insufficient appeal to voters. That seems statistically unlikely. A more plausible explanation is that the party has lacked a marching tune people can respond to. This might be because it has underestimated the power of socialism.”
Meanwhile, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby called the latest wave of hikes “inexplicable”.
The senior bishop in the Church of England, himself a former oil executive, said: “The impact on people, particularly on low incomes, is going to be really severe in this, and the companies have to justify fully what they are doing.
“I do understand when people feel that this is inexplicable, and I can understand people being angry about it, because having spent years on a low income as a clergyman I know what it is like when your household budget is blown apart by a significant extra fuel bill and your anxiety levels become very high. That is the reality of it.”
The archbishop urged firms to be “conscious of their social obligations”, saying they had to to “behave with generosity and not merely to maximise opportunity”.