John Major: emergency tax needed to solve energy 'crisis'
Is former PM's suggestion a blow to Cameron or the perfect chance for the Tories to shift position?
FORMER Tory Prime Minister John Major has waded into the row over energy price hikes, calling for an emergency tax on the profits of top UK energy firms.
British Gas, SSE and Npower's gas and electricity bills will increase by between 8.2 and 11.1 per cent this winter, with the other Big Six energy firms – E.On, EDF and Scottish Power – expected to follow suit.
Speaking at a lunch for political journalists, Major – who was Prime Minister between 1990 and 1997 – said price rises of this kind were "unacceptable" and urged government to take action.
He said the energy market was in "crisis" and suggested that ministers claw back the cost of extra winter fuel payments through a one-off tax on energy firms.
This would help pay for the £25 payments given to people on income support and other work-related benefits if temperatures drop to zero degrees celsius or below for seven consecutive days.
Energy firms claim they need to cover the cost of rising wholesale prices and the green levy imposed by government, but charities have warned that soaring prices are forcing many to choose between "eating or heating".
Downing Street described Major's comments as "interesting" but said no such plans were in place.
Robin Brant, political correspondent for BBC News, says that, on the face of it, the idea "deals a serious blow to Cameron". It "adds fuel" to Ed Miliband's claim that Cameron is standing up for the energy companies rather than consumers.
Indeed, Miliband, who has called for an energy price freeze, tweeted: "Sir John Major makes Labour's argument: David Cameron stands up for the energy companies not hard-pressed families."
Sir John Major makes Labour’s argument: David Cameron stands up for the energy companies not hard-pressed families.
— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) October 22, 2013
However, when Major was asked about Miliband's price freeze plan he said the Labour leader's "heart was in the right place but his head has gone walkabout".
Major is still very much in the Cameron camp, says Brant. "Lobbing in this idea might help Mr Cameron shift position on this highly-charged issue without looking like he is dancing to Labour's tune." ·