Ed Miliband’s office went back to the seventies this Easter. Bank Holiday Monday meant the Labour leader’s team worked just four days that week, then power cuts plunged the building they work in into darkness. A four day week with the lights going out – a metaphor that foreshadows what a Miliband government would look like.
Last year Miliband, atop a soapbox, famously let slip to a man in Brighton that he wanted to “bring back socialism”. Since then he has committed Labour to two flagship policies rooted in socialist ideology.
Labour’s energy price freeze will intervene in the market to prevent a rise in gas and electricity bills. Artificially setting prices using what is effectively modern day central planning board sets off alarm bells for any student of history, and indeed for Miliband’s new strategy chief, the former Obama strategist David Axelrod. In an attack ad produced by Axelrod’s communications company in Illinois, voters are warned that energy price controls would lead to blackouts and an “energy crisis”. Over the next year Axelrod will tell British voters he supports a socialist policy he told Americans would cause misery.
Labour’s rent cap will place an “upper limit” on rent rises based on average market rates. An Economics 101 class can tell you the supply of housing is broadly constant but the supply of rented housing is not. Rent controls incentivise landlords to sell and reduce the supply of rented housing. The rented housing that remains deteriorates in condition as landlords no longer have an incentive to maintain them. Miliband’s own adviser Maurice Glasman opposes the policy, arguing that Labour have “really got to get out of this idea that capping something is going to solve a long-term structural problem.”
This weekend Miliband signalled that Labour is considering a proposal to renationalise Britain’s railways. This would surely be the greatest state intervention in the economy since the seventies. Whatever the many legitimate criticisms of the status quo for rail travel, privatisation has delivered improved services and an increase in the number of people using trains. Renationalisation is opposed by all but the left of the Labour Party. Even Ed Balls fears the consequences, and this is a man who is usually about as adept at seeing problems lying ahead as the captain of the Titanic.
Energy price controls, rent caps and rail nationalisation are policies that typify the dead hand of socialism. But it is the leaked document detailing Labour’s plan for a full scale nanny state that really shows what a Miliband government would mean for British people. Plans drawn up by Andy Burnham suggest Labour would ban cheap beer and wine, ban supermarkets from selling sweets at the tills and ban TV adverts for foods high in sugar, fat and salt before 9pm.
Ed Miliband believes that the problems faced by individuals up and down the country are the responsibility of the state. Moreover, that the state must intervene in people’s lives – even if they oppose this intervention – for their own good. Miliband believes that big government is the answer, that centrally controlling markets and fixing prices are a fair and economically sound solution to the nation’s ills.
But, most of all, Miliband believes in banning things. There is a problem with high energy prices. Ban them. There is a problem with high rent prices. Ban them. There is a problem with people getting drunk on cheap beer and wine. Ban them. There is a problem with children eating too many sweets. Ban them. Labour is setting a dividing line for the next election: a choice between relative freedom and the ability to live your life the way you want, or socialism, state control and a mentality that believes banning things solves everything. Traditionally, Britain has rejected the second option.