The Guardian view on an energy price cap: a stopgap, not a strategy | Editorial

Theresa May wanted this to be the policy that parked a tank on Labour’s lawn. Not like this, it won’t

There is much to be said for a limited cap on energy prices. But the details of the government plan that was published on Thursday, promising lower bills for 11 million households, are so vague and its political purpose so brazen that it needs to be treated with great caution. Buyer, beware.

It is now the stuff of political legend that when Ed Miliband first proposed the idea of a cap in 2013, it was dismissed as a neo-Marxist project. Yet last year, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) itself came close to making the same recommendation, following an investigation triggered by the record of apparently unjustified price rises in the newly liberalised industry. Between 2004 to 2014, they rose by between 75% (for electricity) and 125% (for gas), for reasons that were impossible for most people to understand or for suppliers to explain. Then at the last election Theresa May poached the idea in a bid to plant the banner of Mayism firmly on Labour territory: the Conservatives would be the new party of the working class. Weakened by election humiliation, she dropped the idea. Last week it was recalled by a prime minister desperate to talk about something other than Brexit.

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