Energy price rises – tabloids of the left and right unite in opposition

Rising energy bills unite the popular press today. Three titles – Daily Mirror, The Sun and the Daily Express – splash on the announcement of an 8.2% price hike by one of big six energy companies, SSE, and the likelihood of the other five following suit.

The Mirror’s headline, “Fuel bills will kill”, was probably the boldest on the newsstands while The Sun’s design was the most eye-catching. But the rivals took the same trenchant line: they are against the increases.

As the paper that offers loyal support to the Labour party and its leader Ed Miliband, the Mirror took the opportunity to praise Miliband’s promise to freeze energy bills should Labour come to power and scorned the coalition who, it said, “side with the rip-off firms.”

Its leading article argued that SSE’s increases amount to “around three times the rate of inflation and four times wage increases.” And it rammed home the likely effects of rising energy prices by running interviews with people whose domestic budgets are already stretched.

That critical tone was also evident in The Sun, which published a front page image of a two-fingered salute inside a light bulb and the headline “Upped yours Britain!”. Its spread, “Shock tactics”, featured an excellent graphic.

The Sun’s editorial blamed “this government and the last” for “the first of a sickening new wave of energy price hikes.”

While conceding that Miliband “rightly sees those soaring bills as a key issue” it argued that his solution to freeze them “is bone-headed.”

As for prime minister David Cameron, The Sun accused him of “shrugging his shoulders” over rising bills by “insisting we can always switch to a cheaper supplier.” The Sun says:

“This is pathetic. The Big Six raise prices together, like a wolf pack. Switching might save a few quid — but bills are now HUNDREDS of pounds beyond many pockets.”

The Daily Express splash, “Millions face ‘eat or heat’ dilemma”, contained a quote from Tory energy minister Michael Fallon that may come to haunt him:

“I would encourage customers to see if they can switch to a cheaper tariff.”

Fallon might be wise to look up the word “oligopoly” before the rest of the companies, as predicted by virtually every paper, raise their prices too.

By coincidence, the Express chose this day of days to run a lengthy piece by Miliband in which he sought to convince the paper’s readers that he is their man.

He referred to the SSE price rise but also urged Express readers to consider his new policies: the curbing of social security spending, tougher immigration rules and the solving of the cost-of-living “crisis.”

Oddly, the Daily Mail ran its news story on SSE on page 8. It nosed off on Fallon’s call for people to boycott SSE.

In a short leader, “Flaming cheek!”, the Mail attacked Miliband by claiming that the price hike was partially due to “green levies”. It praised Fallon for urging a boycott.

The Mail’s most striking comment, however, was its cartoon of a laughing group of energy company directors around a boardroom table being addressed by the chairman. The caption said: “…And then came the best bit. Our spokesman said how sorry we were about the huge price hike and managed to keep a straight face!”

The Financial Times, with a piece of lucky timing, was enjoying an interview with Miliband when the SSE news broke. So its page 1 article came, so to speak, from the horse’s mouth: “Miliband lambasts ‘energy predators'”.

Labour’s leader was quoted as saying: “The big divide in Britain is between those who want to fix broken markets and those who want to defend broken markets.”

The Times ran a page one teaser to an inside page lead, “Cameron told levies must stay as energy company raises its prices by 8.2%”. Its leading article accused Miliband of “chasing chimeras” by suggesting that the solution was to “roast energy companies.”

The companies “need margins to reinvest”, said The Times, and “much discussion of the cost of energy misses the point.” It continued:

“The chief problem is less what we pay than what we use. Too many of us live in houses with wind-blown attics and rattling Victorian windows. Our homes are among the draughtiest in Europe, wasting tens of billions of pounds a year.”

It concluded by suggesting that the real problem is the failure to build new homes to modern standards.

The Daily Telegraph’s page 1 story, “Axe green tax, says energy chief”, came at the story from SSE’s point of view.

It quoted the company’s chief executive, Alistair Phillips-Davies, as calling for a national debate about the country’s green agenda. Prices would fall by £110 per household, he said, if the government opted to pay for green energy subsidies and other environmental costs, such as free loft insulation, through the tax system.

The Guardian nosed on the Labour leader’s view in its page 4 article, “Miliband condemns ‘rip-off’ power companies as SSE raises energy prices by more than 8%”.

And The Independent, which splashed on an exclusive – the surprising decision by the Red Cross to distribute food to the needy in Britain for the first time since the second world war – ran the SSE story under the headline “Tories ‘to cut aid given to poorest customers by energy companies'”.

I am reminded that the Indy also carried a piece on Monday which turned out to be prescient: “Energy rip-off: ‘Big Six’ firms too close to minister, says Ed Miliband.” © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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