David Cameron accused of energy 'omnishambles'
PM's pledge to force energy companies to put customers on cheapest tariffs appears to vanish overnight
THE COALITION is engulfed in a new 'omnishambles' after David Cameron's pledge to force energy companies to put customers onto their lowest gas and electricity tariffs appeared to vanish overnight.
Cameron unveiled the policy to MPs during yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions. But speaking in the House of Commons today, energy minister John Hayes would only say a number of options were being considered and the government would take "necessary steps to ensure people get the best possible deal".
Nor was there any mention of Cameron's policy from the PM's coalition partners. Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey told business leaders at the CBI this morning that he planned to legislate to force power companies to inform customers of their lowest tariff – not nearly as radical as the PM's policy.
Shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint accused Cameron of a "shambolic mismanagement of energy policy" in what was "probably the quickest U-turn in British history".
She went on to compare the Coalition's behaviour to The Thick of It: "We all mis-speak from time to time and the prime minister was under a lot of pressure yesterday. But for the government to spend a day pretending to have a policy they have no intention of implementing is no way to run the country. It is like something out of The Thick of It."
The satirical TV show was referenced further when commentators resurrected the word 'omnishambles'. The phrase, which was coined on The Thick of It, was used earlier this year to describe the unravelling of the Chancellor's Budget.
Times political journalist Phil Webster said on Twitter: "Cheap energy bills unravel #omnishambles."
Sun political editor Tom Newton Dunn wrote: "Oh dear. John Hayes rows back from PM's new energy tariff law and also ducks whether he knew it was coming in PMQs. #energi-shambles."
Other Twitter wags, including Flint herself, began using the hashtag 'combishambles'.
The Daily Telegraph's James Kirkup noted that it had become fashionable at Westminster "to complain of an idle, hands-off Prime Minister who doesn't 'grip' the Government or get involved in day-to-day business".
As a result, the PM's direct and personal intervention yesterday in energy policy forced a re-evaluation of that conventional wisdom.
Now, however, "there is something to be said for the man in No 10 leaving ministers and officials in departments to get on with their jobs they're paid for."
But was this really a case of Cameron making up policy as he goes along? The Times attempted an alternative explanation for the debacle, saying there is speculation in Whitehall that Cameron had meant to say yesterday that the Government would be legislating to force energy companies to give "information on" the lowest price rather than enforcing the lowest price.
Meanwhile, consumer group Which? hasn't given up hope that Cameron's radical energy policy will yet become law. A spokesman said: "The prime minister must stick to the promise he made in parliament to legislate so energy companies have to give the lowest tariff to their customers.
"Just giving people information on the lowest tariff is not enough when trust is at an all-time low in the industry and switching levels are falling. Which? has been pressing the Government for years to make sure people get a better deal so we must now see these words turned into action."