Miliband faces onslaught over energy policy – but public support surges

Ed Miliband has been subject to a relentless attack from the press and even figures in his own party over plans to fix energy prices, despite signs of a strong response from the public.

The Labour leader woke up to a slew of negative headlines on the front pages of the newspapers and a sustained assault from the energy industry, which has warned of blackouts if he proceeds with plans to fix energy prices for two years after 2015.

"I believe that perceptions of Labour policy are in danger of being taken backwards," former Labour business secretary Peter Mandelson said yesterday.

"At the business department I tried to move on from the conventional choice in industrial policy between state control and laissez-faire.

"The industrial activism I developed showed that intervention in the economy – government doing some of the pump priming of important markets, sectors and technologies – was a sensible approach."

The swipe from Mandelson reflects the discomfort on the right of the party at what some see as a retreat back to Labour's comfort zone of anti-free market rhetoric.

But that assessment was not universal. The plan was supported by Alistair Campbell, who tweeted: "Peter M wrong re energy policy being shift to left. It is putting consumer first v anti competitive force. More New Deal than old Labour."

The industry onslaught on the policy, which has included warnings that energy firms may leave the UK altogether, continued.

Neil Woodford, fund manager at Invesco Perpetual, the biggest shareholder in British Gas owner Centrica, said Miliband's proposal was an example of "economic vandalism" which "torpedoed any chance that any of that investment will happen between now and the next election".

Editorials in the right-wing press were universally negative, with the Mail branding the policy "schoolboy Marxism".

That coverage was accentuated on the front pages. The Sun led with "Red Ed knocks £2bn off shares". The Telegraph led with: "Miliband accused of economic vandalism". And the Daily Mail led with: "Miliband's bid to fix fuel prices blows up in his face."

However, there were already signs that the policy was improving Labour's poll rating among the public.

Today's YouGov tracker poll for the Sun gave Labour a nine point lead, with the party on 41% to the Tories' 32%.

It is just a one point increase on yesterday, but a full nine points above the finding from last week, when Labour and the Tories were neck-and-neck on 36% each.

Miliband also saw a five per cent increase in his YouGov rating for 'best prime minister', rising from 21% to 26%.

Bookmakers Ladbrokes cut his odds of winning the most seats in the general election from 4/9 to 8/15.

"My job is to stand up for the public interest, not the interest of any one company or any six companies but the whole of the public, the whole of this country, and that's what I have done in the policy I've talked about," Miliband said.

"It makes me think of the banks. The banks used to threaten, the banks used to conjure up scare stories, the banks used to talk about the impact of regulation, and the Conservative party supported them.

"Actually we should have had tougher regulation, and so it makes me think that actually we've got to do the right thing by the country, and that's what I'm going to do."

Miliband's team expected a press and industry onslaught following the speech, but extensive stress-tests of the policy in focus groups beforehand found public support for it to be extremely high.

The Labour leader will now hope to speak over the heads of the media attack to consumers.

YouGov polling suggests he should be able to do so. It found 83% of people felt energy suppliers maximise profits at expense of customers and 56% thought energy companies "treat people with contempt".