In a speech to this year’s Labour conference, party leader Keir Starmer announced plans for a publicly owned energy company, should Labour win office at the next general election.
To be called ‘Great British Energy’ (GBE), the company would serve as part of Labour’s commitment to move Britain to 100% clean energy by 2030. However, to the surprise of no socialist, Starmer’s proposals are deeply flawed, with GBE set to provide no real challenge to the energy companies that currently ruin our lives.
The first issue lies in what Great British Energy would actually do. GBE is not to be an energy supplier, only an energy generator. That is to say, it will build new renewable energy projects, and invest in privately owned renewable schemes too, but it will not be providing us our energy directly. Therefore, GBE-generated energy will still go through the mechanisms of the market, to then be sold to us by private suppliers. If one is looking for a solution to our exorbitant energy bills, GBE is not it.
The main reason for this is that Starmer is unwilling to actually take on the big energy companies. Instead, GBE will begin as a smaller-scale company that – over time – would grow into “a significant, credible generator in a competitive market.”
So the Labour leader is essentially hoping that, one day, GBE will become a big rival to the other energy companies. Starmer is looking to the free market to solve the problems it itself creates! This does nothing to offer solutions to our energy bills right now, nor is it an effective solution to the wider issue.
If Starmer was serious about affordable, clean energy, he would be talking about nationalisation. While he throws phrases like public ownership around, his words aren’t meaningful. For in the case of Great British energy, ‘public ownership’ begins and ends with public funding.
Our money would pay for it, but the Labour leadership have made it clear that the company would operate independently. If you have an independently running company, competing on the free market, you don’t have public ownership – no matter how much public money you throw at it.
Now, Starmer talks about how our energy sector needs to be put under our control, saying “The Chinese Communist Party has a stake in our nuclear industry. And five million people in Britain pay their bills to an energy company owned by France.”
Yet, when he makes references like this, he isn’t talking about putting our energy sector under democratic, worker control. Nor is he when he tells us that GBE would be “right for energy independence from tyrants like Putin”. Fearmongering about Chinese communists and Russian “tyrants” is not going to make our bills any lower, or our energy cleaner.
If today’s Labour party is at all serious about socialism, they would have no qualms about calling for nationalisation of our entire energy sector, breaking up the big energy companies and putting their property under democratic control. Instead, Starmer continues with his own, uniquely boring, brand of capitalism, as the Labour party becomes ever less relevant to the workers of this country.
Mia English, is a member of the YCL’s Birmingham Branch