Cameron tries the 'Goldilocks' trick

The prime minister is in control of the middle ground, but he will have a hard task pleasing everyone. Emily Hohler reports.

David Cameron's insistence on the importance of money-making businesses in his speech at the Conservative party conference was a direct response to Ed Miliband's populist attack on big companies, says James Kirkup in The Daily Telegraph.

In an interview on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Cameron described Labour's plan to increase corporation tax as "nuts", warning it could put the recovery at risk, says Oliver Wright in The Independent on Sunday.

He also attacked Miliband's plan to freeze energy prices (see below), saying the government had to tackle the cost of living crisis itself, not its symptoms.

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Nevertheless, Miliband's speech struck a chord. A Sunday Times poll showed that Labour is now 11 points ahead of the Tories.

If the right-wing vote is split between the Tories and Ukip in 2015, Labour may only need 35% to win a majority, says The Times. Labour's suggested price freeze, if not "very credible", is "seductive". However, it also presents the Tories with a "great opportunity".

By shifting to the left "embracing price fixing, eschewing public-sector reforms, having nothing to say on Europe and almost ignoring the deficit" Labour has left the Conservatives control of the key issues on which elections are fought and won.

It has, agrees Janet Daley in The Daily Telegraph. Cameron can now claim "sole ownership" of that indeterminate middle ground. He should also go after Miliband's idea of a perfect state-controlled economy "full throttle", and make an unambiguous argument in favour of "individual liberty" versus "state power".

But this Goldilocks approach not so hot they put off everyone but Ukip voters; not so cold they fail to win over natural Tories is a hard trick to pull off, says The Sunday Times.

The Tories must come up with some radical and workable policies that "tame the big state, cut red tape and reform public services", while avoiding the nasty party' charge by "helping the low-paid and convincing voters that the recovery will benefit everyone".

And even if they can fend off Ukip simply by saying Vote Nigel, get Ed' (private polls suggest that seven out of ten Ukip supporters would vote Tory to prevent Miliband from winning), the Tories still have problems with their own credibility, says Janan Ganesh in the FT.

When tax breaks are given to people just because they are married, austerity "seems less like the most urgent political mission of our time and more like a baggy theme masking myriad choices about who to help and who to deprive".

That's true, notes Allister Heath in City AM. "George Osborne is at pains to convince sceptics he wants not just to reduce the deficit but eventually to start tackling the national debt."

But when you examine the proposals in detail, they "still involve kicking the can further down the road, and merely extrapolate from current deficit trends". Overall, their economic plan is "yet another wasted opportunity".

Does Ed really want a return to the 1970s?

Commentators warned the lights would go out; energy giants threatened to flee the country and warned of the "horrors that would follow price controls", says Mary Riddell in The Daily Telegraph. But the suggestion that this is a call to return to the bad old statist days of the 1970s is "simplistic", says John McDermott in the Financial Times.

Miliband is "under few illusions about voters' scepticism of the merits of a bigger state and of his party's economic competence, but he does believe there is a case for a more active state".

He's right, says Andrew Adonis in The Independent. The big six energy firms, which supply 98% of homes, aren't giving consumers a fair deal. When wholesale energy prices went up in 2008, bills went up. When wholesale prices fell by 45% in 2009, household bills only fell by 5%. Energy bills have risen by an average of almost £300 since the 2010 election. "No wonder trust has fallen and support for Ed Miliband's stance is so strong."

When a small number of firms control both generation and supply of energy, it's hard for new entrants. "That's why Labour's pro-market, anti-monopolistic proposals are so important".

Miliband's plans are lunacy, says Alex Brummer in the Daily Mail. First, "markets require certainty of pricing to invest". Major shareholders will not fund new energy projects if they do not believe they will be profitable.

Secondly, Britain already faces a 25% chance of power cuts this winter, according to energy regulator, Ofgem. A price freeze would make power cuts more likely as investment in storage facilities would be delayed.

Thirdly, the prospects of greater competition "will be crushed". A number of new, smaller competitors have entered the market to undercut the bigger operators: there will be no prospect of that "if prices are controlled".

Fourthly, it will affect everyone with an investment in a British energy company (it already has; share prices have slumped).

Lastly, it will destroy faith in private-sector investment in our utilities. If investors believe that a Labour government would impose new price controls on the postal service, for instance, it could have a "disastrous effect on the upcoming share offering of the Royal Mail".

Emily Hohler

Emily has worked as a journalist for more than thirty years and was formerly Assistant Editor of MoneyWeek, which she helped launch in 2000. Prior to this, she was Deputy Features Editor of The Times and a Commissioning Editor for The Independent on Sunday and The Daily Telegraph. She has written for most of the national newspapers including The Times, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail, She interviewed celebrities weekly for The Sunday Telegraph and wrote a regular column for The Evening Standard. As Political Editor of MoneyWeek, Emily has covered subjects from Brexit to the Gaza war.

Aside from her writing, Emily trained as Nutritional Therapist following her son's diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes in 2011 and now works as a practitioner for Nature Doc, offering one-to-one consultations and running workshops in Oxfordshire.