Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Corbyn Evokes WWII Rebuild With Call to Nationalize U.K. Grids

  • U.K. Labour leader seeks to ‘radically shift’ U.K. economy
  • Opposition wants to use public utilities to help environment

U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn issued a call on Saturday to overhaul the British economy, presenting a vision in which the nation’s power and gas grids are brought back into public ownership.

The opposition leader evoked the post-World War II reconstruction -- including the foundation of Britain’s National Health Service -- carried out by Clement Attlee’s Labour administration in the 1940s in a speech at a Labour conference on “alternative models of ownership,” according to a statement emailed by the party.

Jeremy Corbyn

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

“The challenge of climate change requires us to radically shift the way we organize our economy,” Corbyn was expected to say in the London talk. “With the national grid in public hands, we can put tackling climate change at the heart of our energy system. To go green, we must take control of our energy.”

The measures outlined by Corbyn are designed to burnish his credentials as a man of the people who’s seeking to build an economy that “works for the many not the few” -- Labour’s slogan from last year’s election in which he chiseled away Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party majority without securing power himself. It’s a stance that has put U.K. businesses on edge, as they fear a Labour government would bring a wave of re-nationalizations.

Cost to Taxpayers

“Labour’s calls for nationalization continues to miss the point,” Neil Carberry, managing director for people and infrastructure at the U.K.’s main business lobby group, the CBI, said in a statement. “At a time when the U.K. must be seen more than ever as a great place to invest and create jobs, these proposals would simply wind the clock back on our economy.”

Corbyn was expected to outline support for the creation of publicly owned energy companies and co-operatives to rival the existing private utilities, which are dominated by the so-called Big Six: Centrica Plc, Electricite de France SA, SSE Plc, Innogy SE’s Npower unit, Iberdrola SA’s ScottishPower business and EON SE. He’ll also call for National Grid Plc gas and power transmission infrastructure to be restored to public hands.

The Labour leader’s speech reinforces promises he made in the 2017 election campaign, which include renationalizing the country’s railways, postal system and water utilities. Since the vote, the party has also said it’ll bring hundreds of public-private contracts back into government control. The Centre for Policy Studies, a right-wing think tank co-founded by former Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher, estimated last month that the party’s plans would cost at least 176 billion pounds ($243 billion).

‘Worse Services’

“Independent reports show Labour’s renationalization plan will cost taxpayers billions and lead to worse services for people,” Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss said in a statement. “Labour would put politicians in charge of running everything from the phone lines to electricity supply, meaning people have nowhere to turn when things go wrong. That didn’t work last time and won’t work this time.”

Corbyn is seeking wholesale changes to the way Britain produces and distributes power, in order to help fight global warming. 

“The past is a centralized system with a few large plants,” he’ll say. “The future is decentralized, flexible and diverse, with new sources of energy large and small, from tidal to solar.”

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