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Starmer and Sunak are both crying out for one thing - energy

Joe Hawkins

As referred to by each other, Captain Hindsight and Inaction Man embarked on conference-shaped missions away from Westminster over the last couple of weeks. However, there probably wasn't enough vitality on display to make either toy one you'd not be sick of by Boxing Day.

 

However, the difference in morale heading back from each conference is certainly to take note of. The Liverpool getaway will have buoyed the opposition, while the governing party seem to have too many factions to identify a communal feeling between them. And that's reflected in the post-conference polls, too: with Opinium polling suggesting that Labour's lead is now up to 16 points over the unmoved Conservatives, with Sir Keir Starmer's own approval rating jumping by 9. 

 

But opinion polls don't determine who will be in power after the next general election. With campaign spending limits set to almost double to £35 million, the pre-election trash-talking will be both scathing and far-reaching as each party tussles to be the country's favourite or the least less liked.

 

The question hanging over Labour and Starmer is, and has been, 'so what are you going to do about it?'. Policy U-turns galore have seen flip-flop references soar close to the rate of inflation – as well as the ready-made attack line that the Lefty Lawyer is spineless, unimaginative, and not up to the task of running the country.

 

And so, rather than dogging the Conservative's management of the past 13 years (well, there was a bit), Labour tried to present the early blueprint of what a Starmerite government would look like. While the housebuilding pledges caught the eyes and ears of many and promising to rescue and nurture the limping NHS played on national heartstrings, one idea slipped under the radar a bit: Great British Energy. A company that would be publicly owned, green, recruiting and – maybe most importantly – new.

 

If 2024 is going to be fought on net-zero policies, the Uxbridge by-election should point to the fact that financial compromise isn't going to go down well. Asking for more of the public's money in the heart of a cost-of-living crisis is brave, and comforting them with the classic, 'well it's the Tories' fault we're here anyway' isn't exactly going to soften the blow. Instead, promising to reduce energy bills by £1,400 seems like a brighter idea. Moreover, the prospect of creating half a million jobs – many of which in Scotland, which looks set to be a goldmine of seats to sweep up come the election – also presents a one-upper to shout about. Will it actually work? Who knows. But as an idea to woo voters, whack on a billboard or be the topic of conversation in the pub on a midweek night, there's nothing like your household bills (that's only half sarcastic).

 

It also promises to 'deliver energy security so we're not dependant on dictators like Putin.' One thing that the war in Ukraine has told Britain is that being overly dependent on foreign facilities, be it energy or something else, leaves you vulnerable to paying the price when you need to impose sanctions. There's also the idea to 'take back control' which Labour flaunted when it presented ideas for a more devolved government back in January. The feeling of autonomy and national pride could undoubtedly be one to play up – because who wants to be the party that campaigns against something that represents Britain being self-sufficient, independent and not at the hands of a dictator waging untold misery on Ukraine?

 

Britain standing strong on being green isn't a Labour exclusive: the Conservative approach is just a little different. The government line is that Britain should not bear the brunt of saving the planet when it's not a serial offender – and that's not without logic. The aforementioned national pride could also ask, 'why are we compensating for China's pollution by paying to change our boilers and drive in outer London?'. It looks like Labour doesn't want to answer that, so it is diverting the question as far away as possible – to Scotland – to give the answers there instead. Both parties recognise it will be a topic worth fighting, so they are walking to the ring ready to spar and find out which answer will resonate most with the voter. It sets up a dividing line that people want to see. It differentiates the two parties and allows them to pick a side rather than resigning themselves to disillusionment with Westminster politics.

 

We don't yet know if Great British Energy provides the answer, but we do know that it will ask the question: what does Britain want to do with its energy policy? It will allow voters to pick a side: do you take the option you can reach, of being able to drive the car you want without having to pay, or do you buy into the big, gleaming national machine that promises to help but might ultimately amount to nothing? It's a cliché, but only time will tell if Britain wants to Make Energy Great Again. Just please don't put it on a hat.


Image: Getty Images

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