Cameron in a corner as he says no to Major’s windfall energy tax
PM’s only answer is to abandon green policies: Clegg bites his lip and Zac Goldsmith calls him a muppet
DAVID CAMERON today rejected Sir John Major’s call for a windfall profits tax on the fat cat energy companies. Instead, he announced he has ordered a review of green taxes on fuel, and insisted that the way to get down people’s soaring bills is through tougher competition regulation.
Cameron admitted for the first time that the eight to nine per cent price hikes by most of the big six energy companies had reached a “completely unacceptable level”. But he rejected the former Conservative leader’s solution at one of the roughest sessions of Prime Minister’s Questions he has had to endure.
Nick Robinson, political editor of the BBC, said afterwards that today’s PMQs had been a “nightmare” for Cameron and accused the PM on the BBC’s Daily Politics show of “making up policy on the hoof”.
Downing Street briefers hinted that details of the cuts in green taxes on energy may be announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 4 December - but BBC reporters checked with the Office of Fair Trading who knew nothing of Cameron’s announcement about the need for tougher regulation.
John Major in effect supplied Ed Miliband with some of his best lines today. The Labour leader, whose key election strategy is to highlight the squeeze on living standards, wiped the floor with Cameron over his failure to stand up to the energy industry bosses on behalf of ordinary people. He was able to ridicule the PM, reminding him that he told voters at the last election to “vote Blue get Green”.
Cameron hit back, accusing Miliband of being a “conman” by claiming he could deliver a price freeze when he had no control over wholesale energy prices. But to rub salt in the wound, the Speaker, John Bercow, told Cameron to stop calling Miliband a conman. Bercow told him: “The word ‘conman’ is frankly unParliamentary… it is below the level.”
The PM told the House: “We need to roll back some of the green regulations and charges” which he said had increased gas and electricity bills.
“I can tell the House today we will be having a proper competition test carried out over the next year to get to the bottom of whether this market can be more competitive. I want more companies, I want better regulation but we also need to roll back the green charges that he (Miliband) introduced.”
Miliband responded: “He really is changing his policy every day of the week. It’s absolutely extraordinary – his Energy Secretary (the Lib Dems’ Ed Davey) said it is nothing to do with green taxes.”
Cameron refused to endorse Major’s plan for a windfall profits tax, thus putting paid to this morning’s speculation that Sir John was authorised by Cameron to make his call for a windfall profits tax to answer Miliband’s price freeze idea, which has won widespread public support. But that turned out to be well wide of the mark.
Cameron was left looking hopelessly out of touch with the plight of ordinary householders, and decidedly out of sorts. His commitment to “roll back” green taxes clearly annoyed Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who sat mutely by his side, biting his lip.
It also upset green Tory MP Zac Goldsmith who tweeted: “In 2010, leaders fought to prove they were the greenest. 3 yrs on, they're desperately blaming their own policies on the other. Muppets.” As Paul Waugh, editor of PoliticsHome, tweeted: “Not often a Tory MP calls his leader a 'muppet'. But then ZacGoldsmith is a true believer in the green cause.”
Shortly before PMQs Ben Brogan, the deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, said in a briefing note: “I find it inconceivable that he [John Major] would have said something so potentially explosive without knowing that it would help, rather than hinder. Note too that it wasn't just an off-the-cuff remark: he made a point of repeating it for the benefit of the cameras.”
Wrong this time, Ben. It’s now inconceivable that Cameron can adopt a windfall profits tax without a huge bowl of egg on his face. ·