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Miliband puts cost of living centre-stage

Cat Smith takes heart from Miliband's pledge to freeze energy prices

Like many Labour Party members I have been asking for policies to speak about on doorsteps for some time and this Labour Party Conference provided plenty. I counted no fewer than eight headline policies announced last month in Brighton.

The proposal to scrap the bedroom tax was pitched to the press before delegates had arrived at the seaside. We also saw a proposal to deliver an energy market people can trust, childcare policies, a rebuilding Britain Commission, working parents to get 25 hours free childcare for three and four-year-olds, proposals to strengthen the national minimum wage, the office of budget responsibility to audit Labour's spending plans, and new proposals on immigration and apprenticeships.

Ed Miliband's sound bite of the conference was 'Britain can do better than this' and he proposed a Labour government which fights for ordinary people. Labour's campaigning on the cost of living crisis really does speak the vast majority of voters who are struggling with prices rising faster than their wages.

For anyone who can't see a clear difference between Ed Miliband and David Cameron, here are some facts. Prices have risen faster than wages in 38 of the 39 months that David Cameron has been in Downing Street and working people are on average almost £1500 a year worse off under this government. What is David Cameron's response to this? He has cut tax the people on over £150,000 a year whilst raising it for almost everyone else. While small businesses struggle to get credit bankers bonuses are up 82%. He talks about Britain being in a 'global race', but with him it's a race to the bottom of the lowest wages and the fewest rights at work.

Ed Miliband has been at his strongest when he has been taking on vested interests. What better vested interest than the energy companies? When I knock on people's doors and talk to them about the cost of living they highlight the energy bills which are making family budgets very difficult to balance.

Labour is announcing radical plans to reset the energy market, to rebuild trust and put the fairness back in. Because energy bills have risen by almost £300 for families and businesses at a time when wages are stagnating it is no surprise that this policy seems to have gone down very well with the public. Ed Miliband has identified correctly that when the price of energy increases (wholesale price) energy companies pass this on but when it drops consumers do not see their bills fall. When energy prices went up in 2008, bills went up. But when energy prices fell by 45% in 2009, household bills only fell by 5%. This overcharging is unfair and undermines trust in the market.

Despite repeatedly finding that the energy market is letting down customers, Ofgem has failed to start putting things right. In 2008, it identified 16 things that needed to be improved for the market to work properly. In 2011 it admitted that 12 of these got worse or stayed the same but it took no real action. It is great that Ed Miliband has pledged to abolish Ofgem which has failed to stand-up for consumers and replace it with a tough new energy watchdog from January 2017.

Short of re-nationalising, Ed Miliband's pledge to increase competition and transparency forces energy companies to do three things: separate out those parts of their business that generate energy from the parts that sell to consumers, sell all their energy in an open pool, and introduce a simple new tariff structure, is a huge step in the right direction.

In order to protect people and their bills Ed Miliband has pledged to stop unfair price rises by freezing energy bills from the election in 2015 until January 2017. It is difficult to miss that it is this part of the policy that the press really picked up on!

From my perspective as a Parliamentary candidate in 2015, the policy direction which Ed Miliband took in Brighton last month could not be any better. When we talk to people the cost of living is always a key part to all the other problems they want to raise with us. Having a very clear policy on this issue really makes it easier to sell the Labour message.

If we can go into 2015 fighting an election on the cost of living crisis we can put Miliband into 10 Downing Street. It also creates space for Labour to propose some policies which resemble a 21st century socialism. It's clear that this won't look like the way we think of socialism, but it will be making things better for the many and for me that's progress.