John Major
Ashley Kirk

A different kind of energy crisis: is Major getting soft in his old age?

Former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major waded into the increasingly-heated energy debate on Tuesday, calling for a one-off windfall tax on energy company’s excess profits. Whilst we shouldn’t take this as anything more than a popularity-seeking stunt from a has-been (or a bitter gesture to get back at old political rivals such as Duncan-Smith), this policy would provide much-needed support for people who, as he said, face the choice between eating or heating their homes this winter.

His comments came as a shock to many – including the government – as it represents clear opposition to the Tory ‘laissez faire’ party line, a party line which seems perfectly happy to watch as energy companies bump up their prices by a fatal 8 to 10%. A staggered Downing Street blundered and floundered in response, describing the comments as “interesting”.

They were right. It is interesting. His comments sound like they were those of Ed Miliband, rather than a previous Tory leader. Sound bites such as “governments should exist to protect people, not institutions” sound surprisingly left-wing when compared to the usual lines of the government. It’s refreshing. More politicians need to occasionally lean away from the party line to express some logic.

Is he getting soft? No. He’s being – I cringe at using Bush’s phrase – a compassionate conservative. Compassion is needed in government, especially a government which aims to squeeze every last penny out of the people.

Will he be listened to? No. It will fall on deaf ears due to the stubbornness of Tory economic policy. A hallmark of the Coalition seems to be an irritating reluctance to admit when they’re wrong, and so U-turns and policy changes are put on hold until it’s too late. Worryingly, in terms of energy prices, the consequences of doing nothing could be fatal.

Cameron would do well to heed Major’s words. The election is only around the corner, and it is at this time that governments need to roll out pleasing policies that pay at the polls. There is also the more pressing and real issue of spiralling energy costs hitting millions of people in the cold months.

The average household’s dual fuel bill is approximately £1400, which is considerably more than what the poorest in our society can afford. It is almost certain that people will not be able to stay warm this winter, and the government is sitting back and letting people fend for themselves. Major has presented himself as the empathetic man from a working-class background; Cameron now look even more out-of-touch, as his pro-business, conservative ideology disables him from taken any palpable measures.

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