They realised it would mean the energy companies wouldn’t be able to invest in the new kit that would allow them to hold down costs in the long run: new nuclear power stations, new substations and distribution networks. They started to wonder whether it made sense to allow politicians to set market prices in this way. Hadn’t the Emperor Diocletian tried that? Didn’t Edward Heath? It looked as though the energy price freeze might end up having the opposite effect – driving the price higher later on.
Meanwhile, the economy kept getting better. The sun beat down on the wilting dome of Miliband’s energy-price fungus and the little gnome was finding less and less shade. The polls were drifting in the Tory direction. He needed a new patch of darkness and discontent – and then he saw it. Housing! People were fed up with paying so much rent. He hopped beneath the next towering toadstool and croaked his wares. We’ll order landlords to stop charging everyone so much! Free money all round. Really? said the struggling members of “Generation Rent”. You bet, said the Miligoblin.
And for a while, it worked. Everyone concentrated on the horrible toadstool of housing costs and forgot about the sunshine. They thought Labour might have the answer – until they started to think about it. Someone pointed out that we had tried rent controls in the Seventies. Someone else said they had been a disaster elsewhere in the world. Then someone made the obvious point that government interference would only stop investors from building new homes and expanding the rental sector.
Almost as soon as Miliband started promising to cut rents, people saw that he was talking nonsense, and that the real answer was to get on and expand supply. Things were just starting to motor in the housing market, they noted, with more homes being built in London than at any time in the past 30 years. The last thing the people needed was some Venezuelan rent-control system that would simply discourage landlords from putting properties on the market.
For about a week, Miliband has been pretending he can magically cut the cost of housing by introducing more bureaucracy. It isn’t working for him. The polls continue to narrow. Yesterday – for the first time since he has been leader – he fell behind in the south of England, as a Sunday Telegraph poll had the Tories one point ahead. He needed another great toadstool with which to distract the electorate!
And so, yesterday morning, he lolloped under the eaves of that old favourite – the cost of transport. People are fed up with paying so much for commuter rail services, Miliband has observed. We’ll cut your fares! We’ll renationalise the rail! he calls from his fungal crevice. Really? says everyone, though the sunshine is so glorious that he is now quite hard to see. Absolutely, says the little Labour orc.
Well, we will see how long this one takes to fall apart. It is true that train operating companies could cut some costs – not by cutting investment in rolling stock, but by following us at London Underground in using new technology. Why do all these trains still have guards, for instance? We have dispensed with them on Transport for London’s Overground trains – and the system is more popular than ever. That is the kind of policy Miliband should support if he wants to cut fares, just as he should support our plan to modernise the Tube’s ticket offices, which will save £50 million a year.
Will he? Of course not. He is a Labour goblin of a particularly old-fashioned kind, in that he responds entirely to the wishes of Sauron, in the form of Len McCluskey and the rest of the unions. With every month that goes by, he is moving his party further and further from the formula of Tony Blair, a formula that won three elections – a broadly centrist approach that accepted the market economy as the best way to deliver growth and fulfilment.
Every day, he seems to come up with some new and barmy plan to regulate and coerce – without understanding that his approach will deliver the very opposite of what he claims. Yesterday some wheeze was leaked of putting new taxes on food, to stop us all being so fat. How is that supposed to help with the cost of living?
Never in the past four years has he looked so eminently beatable. As the economy waxes ever stronger, the toadstools of discontent are shrivelling. The Miligoblin is losing his last habitat.