Miliband grenade on energy prices may end up as friendly fire

The ‘grenade’ is a useful communications trick often used in PR campaigns and in political public relations. The concept is pretty simple: an expert or prominent individual makes a statement, pledge or claim that is so incendiary as to attract the interest of his or her peers, the public and the media. The more prominent the individual, the more likely it is to attract attention.

A big stage on which to make your claim also helps, and a case in point was Ed Miliband’s announcement to the Labour Party conference back in September that, if elected, a Labour government would freeze household energy bills for 20 months. The announcement fit perfectly with Labour’s narrative on the cost of living and captured the public mood in light of the Big Six raising prices. It also successfully placed the Coalition on the back foot, requiring the Prime Minister to set out how the Government would help members of the public struggling with rapidly rising utilities bills.

But as political strategists know, the grenade is not without risk. The danger is that others throw grenades back at you and the damage this can cause can very easily offset the benefits of your initial announcement.

The conclusions of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which will be reported on BBC’s Panorama programme this evening, show the dangers of the grenade. The OECD, as credible and qualified a group as it is possible to find on the subject of economic policy, will argue that a 20 month freeze of household energy prices will discourage investors and could handicap British energy infrastructure development. Importantly, this warning has been accompanied by numerous claims from the energy industry that the UK is perilously close to an energy deficit.

Deterring investment in the UK market is unlikely to resonate with the public in the same way as a freeze on energy prices. But there is still a significant threat to Mr Miliband and a need for Labour to explain how will address the OECD’s concerns. Failure to do so will leave the energy companies – and indeed the Coalition – with the opportunity to prove that Mr Miliband’s pledge is nothing but short-term electoral opportunism and not grounded in long-term economic reality, a charge Labour can do without.

If that happens, the grenade will still go off. But it might go off in Mr Miliband’s camp.


Chris Rogers