Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 54 Number 16, June 29, 2024 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

July 4 Election

Labour's Fraudulent Plans for "Great British Energy"

The Labour Party manifesto outlined plans to establish a state-run Great British Energy company. The manifesto claims it will deliver 100% clean power by 2030, cutting energy bills, creating jobs, ensuring energy security, and making Britain energy independent. It will build an energy system for the future, "run for the British people." [1]

Not only is it a set of empty promises, but it is also fraud of highest order. It is aimed to divert the central issues concerning the production and distribution of energy, which are: who decides, who controls and in whose interests are they run? In conditions of deepening economic chaos, war and environmental damage, the need is for scientific planning over such production - and indeed all production - and its raw materials and waste products, with fidelity to human and human-nature relations. The foremost block to achieving this is the control of the sector by the global cartels.

An article in Politics Home [2], which discusses the plan in some detail, explains that the idea originally came from the Common Wealth think tank in 2019, supported by Ed Miliband, John McDonnell, and Caroline Lucas. Miliband has since stated that the company will have two main concerns: leading investment in technologies such as offshore wind in partnership with the private sector; and the "local power plan", a form of public-private partnership at the level of local authorities. Trade unions "will have an important role in relation to the board of GB Energy". Regardless of its origins, it is New Labour through and through.

The fraud is on three fronts. One is the framing of the plan as one to create abundant clean energy and achieve carbon net zero, which is designed to exploit the growing widespread concern over the damage to the environment. This concern is very real and justified, and people are in motion, particularly the youth. The aim is in part to divert this motion and direct it towards getting people behind the electoral coup in the making and the private interests the Labour Party represents. It also reflects those private interests, and their pipe dream that they can maintain the status quo with limitless clean energy to do as they please without consequence.

Another fraudulent claim is that the new company is "national" and run in the interests of the people. All indications are that a new wave of the ongoing economic crisis is building, bringing further destruction of the productive forces and unemployment on top of the current cost of living crisis, a key factor in which is energy prices. In that context, the Labour Party claims GB Energy will be a new national company. The experience of privatisation has been the devastation of social programmes and key infrastructure, opening them up as direct sources of profit, and spiralling prices. Describing itself as both "pro-worker" and "pro-business", with its "New Deal", Labour is attempting to bring workers on side, to get behind the aims of big business, while offering "nationalisation" of energy as a kind of Trojan horse to this end.

Both "nationalisation" and "privatisation" take place in a context. We are no longer in the era of social democracy; it is not the 1940s-70s. We are in the period of neoliberalism, and in particular the decay of neoliberalism and conditions of perpetual crisis, marked by disequilibrium and the total domination by the oligopolies. Today, with the politicisation of the most powerful private interests, which have completely usurped the public authority, a state-run energy company can be run just as much for these oligarchic interests as a private company. These interests, continually on the hunt for big scores to offset their generally-falling rates of return, are looking to state provision of their energy needs, as well as demanding state-backed infrastructure projects as a safe investment for their capital as the economic outlook again becomes uncertain.

"The story of decarbonisation is electrification. We need to electrify everything we can," Politics Home quotes one industry source as saying. "If GBE is enabling new infrastructure to be built or grid connections to be made, honestly, we'll bite their arm off."

"The key for state involvement is to address market failures," says head of Octopus Energy Greg Jackson in the same article. "This includes situations where there's simply not the data for private investors to assess risk and return, such as ultra-long duration storage or tidal power..."

"Using GBE to 'de-risk' or 'crowd-in' private sector investment will mean handing over more money to energy companies whilst we pay for it if it goes wrong," the article reports Alex Stephenson, energy campaigner for Labour for a Green New Deal, as warning.

"In some ways it's the state again doing all the heavy lifting of frontier technological change, and all the risks involved...," said Common Wealth director Mathew Lawrence similarly. "It plays into all their themes of energy security, securonomics and patriotism."

This relates to a third aspect of the fraud: that it will provide British "independence". The interests of the oligopolies reflect their contention over energy production and energy corridors, which has been a significant factor in the proxy war in Ukraine - a conflict that has in turn exacerbated the contention.

The oligopolies therefore demand energy security, and there are further contradictions over who controls energy production and distribution. In Western Europe, the biggest base for the energy industry has been France, with its giant state-run EDF. The creation of GB Energy is in direct competition to this French state-run monopoly. In this respect, it clearly follows the present Conservative government's relaunch of BNFL as Great British Nuclear in July last year [3].

Hence the promise to set up a "Great British" Energy company is thoroughly imbued with Great British chauvinism. The conception is entirely Blairite, a Third Way-style plan to "Make Britain Great Again", aligned with the aims of pro-war government and all its attendant dangers. But it is also fraudulent because there is no such independence. Creating a so-called Great British Energy company does nothing to change that when it is carried out under the conditions of the domination by the most powerful multinational monopolies and run in their interests.

Indeed, there are all kinds of promises and unsupported claims being made in this election campaign. There is widespread criticism of the idea being pie in the sky or a pipe dream, that it contains nothing of real substance, nothing concrete, but empty claims.

Fundamentally, nothing in the Labour Party programme addresses the direction of the economy, who decides that direction, and what claims are made on the economy. Will the economy be aimed at meeting the needs of the people and society, and the social and natural environment, as its priority? Will it be in the service of peaceful and friendly international relations and trade based on mutual benefit? Or will continue to serve the pro-war interests of competing private factions of the global oligarchy?

The response to this vapid nonsense and dangerous fraud is for the working class to lead the way to a new direction. The main thing in this election is to point the way to democratic renewal and elaborate a government that is anti-war.

1. "Labour's plan for GB Energy", Labour Party, September 28, 2023
2. "GB Energy: What role will Labour's state-owned energy company really play?", Sienna Rodgers, Politics Home, May 2, 2024
3. "Great British Nuclear: Overview", Government Policy Paper, July 18, 2023

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