Britain’s Cameron: Opposition’s Energy, Land Proposals “Nuts”

The Conservative says his opponent’s proposals remind him of Labour’s 1983 “suicide note.”

Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom in London, October 31, 2011
Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom in London, October 31, 2011 (The Prime Minister’s Office)

British prime minister David Cameron characterized his socialist opponent’s proposals to freeze energy rates and confiscate private lands to build houses as “nuts” in an interview that was published on Saturday.

“If we want to secure a recovery for all, if we want to build an ‘opportunity Britain’, we’re not going to do that by bashing business with higher taxes,” Cameron told The Telegraph newspaper, which usually supports his Conservative Party.

If we want to build more houses and give people the chance of home ownership, we’re not going to do it by confiscating land off people. I just think it’s a very backward looking, very old style prospectus.

Cameron joked that Britain’s opposition leader Ed Miliband had recited his party’s 1983 manifesto at the Labour conference in Brighton last week where he painted the prime minister and his cabinet as an uncaring elite who were making life “harder not easier” for hardworking families. The document, which was famously described at the time as “the longest suicide note in history,” called for the renationalization of recently privatized state industries as well as unilateral nuclear disarmament. It was so far to the left that Labour lost almost 10 percent support against Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives that year.

Miliband’s policy proposals were sharply criticized in the conservative press. The Daily Mail tabloid derided as a “Stalinist landgrab” his threat to confiscate private property if developers failed to build homes on them. “We will give them a very clear message: either use the land or lose the land. That is what the next Labour government will do,” Miliband said.

The liberal Adam Smith Institute’s Victoria Freeman challenged Miliband’s other headline proposal — to freeze energy rates for two years when Labour comes to power. If electricity companies are prevented from passing increased costs onto consumers, “how will they stay solvent?” she wondered.

It could come down to a choice between cutting investment, returns to investors or staffing costs. Given that energy companies’ largest shareholders include [British] pension funds, none of these options are appealing.

The Telegraph‘s Janet Daley further warned that the plan might raise prices in advance if companies expect Labour to win the next election. “Not to mention the inconvenient truth that cutting the energy companies’ profits would reduce the amount of tax revenue they produce for a government drowning in debt.”

The new Miliband revivalism brings back the threat of nationalization and state seizure that did so much to wreck the prospects of postwar British industry.

Although Miliband’s lurch to the left should give Cameron’s Conservatives a chance to occupy the center ground in the next election, due in 2015, Daley advised against such complacency, pointing out that the “center ground” is “nothing more than the consensus of fashionable talk” while Labour has “declared that ideology and passion are back in the game.”

Rather, the Conservatives should go after Labour’s argument — “with its seductive dream of a perfect, state controlled economy in which no one makes ‘too much’ profit and no one ever earns less than he needs” — and wage an “unambiguous fight over state power versus individual liberty.”

Cameron hinted at as much in his interview, acknowledging that his party has “to explain our values and our motivations” yet his “big argument” is that “there is only one way you can improve people’s living standards — you have got to secure a recovering economy, secure good jobs, keep the deficit down so that interest rates and mortgage rates are low and then you’ve got to cut people’s taxes.” That is hardly the ideological argument Daley would like him to advance.

Cameron is due to address his own conference in Manchester on Wednesday.

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