Labour leader Ed Miliband
Ed Miliband wants to move debate back onto energy billsReuters

Ed Miliband is attempting to seize the political opportunity offered by a renewed row over energy prices with a series of announcements aimed at keeping the economic debate on his chosen turf.

Speaking to members of the Federation of Small Businesses in Manchester, the Labour leader promised to protect them from any attempt by the power companies to hike their bills.

At the same time, Labour announced it was pressing for a Commons vote next week to freeze all energy bills for the period of the competition inquiry into the industry announced this week.

The initiatives come in the wake of the decision by SSE to freeze its prices until at least 2016 and the announcement that the regulator, Ofgem, that there will be a full inquiry into alleged anti-competitive practices in the sector.

We will create proper competition enforced by a new regulator to keep prices as low as possible.
Ed Miliband

Miliband told the FSB conference: "We have to mend the broken energy market and freeze bills up to 2017 not just for customers of one company but for all customers of all the energy companies and all customers.

"It is unacceptable that companies like yours do not have even basic protections that are available to households under the law from unfair energy contracts.

"The next Labour government would ban the energy companies from rolling small businesses on to more expensive tariffs without their consent. And we will create proper competition enforced by a new regulator to keep prices as low as possible for the years ahead," he said.

Labour suffered a significant setback as a result of chancellor George Osborne's radical pension reforms contained in a highly-political budget.

With its poll lead disappearing and the party under attack for failing to offer a coherent response there were signs of discontent in the Labour ranks. Competing factions pressed the leadership to either announce its own, bold economic programme or continue a steady-as-she-goes response focused on the core vote.

There were even renewed rumblings over the future of shadow chancellor Ed Balls who is seen by some in the party as a reminder of past mistakes at a time when it needs to present a fresh face to the electorate.

And with Miliband's focus on the cost of living crisis beginning to run out of steam, he was losing control of the agenda and the political momentum he had gathered over the autumn and winter.

So the latest developments over energy prices moved things firmly back onto his territory and, while the government attempted to claim the credit for the SSE price freeze and for creating a more competitive market, it was Labour that was likely to reap the most rewards.

Miliband's task is to keep the issue running as long as possible while the government remains confident that, with the recent freeze and inquiry announcements the sting has already been taken from the issue and it will start to lose power for Miliband.