Hot and bothered, PM in a muddle over energy policy
The fractious exchanges at Prime Minister's Questions have tended to go the way of David Cameron in recent months. But yesterday the momentum was with Labour leader Ed Miliband – thanks, surprisingly to former Tory PM Sir John Major.
His call for Cameron to take on the big six energy companies gave the Labour leader an easy target – so easy one wonders quite what was Sir John's motive? In the past Mr Miliband has demonstrated an extraordinary skill to miss these kinds of targets, but for once that skill was absent. And in the House of Commons yesterday, he tore into the Prime Minister with a ruthless determination.
"The Prime Minister said that anyone who wanted to intervene in the energy markets is living in a Marxist universe," the Leader of the Opposition began. "Can he tell the House how he feels now that the red peril has claimed John Major?"
Mr Cameron had two choices. He could either go on the attack against Mr Miliband personally or focus on the issue and try to win that battle instead.
In the event he tried and failed to do both. His claims to want to "roll back" green taxes were immediately contradicted by Mr Miliband, who pointed out that the Lib Dem Energy Secretary had already ruled this out. And his attacks on Mr Miliband as a "con man" backfired after the Speaker described them as "unparliamentary" and out of order.
This was the third week that Mr Miliband has focused on energy bills. By now the Prime Minister really should have come up with a decent response. If anything he seemed less well prepared than in previous encounters on the floor of the House.
Clearly, the Prime Minister is in the invidious position of feeling pressed to match a proposal that, while superficially appealing, is both ineffectual and may prove to be outright damaging. But Mr Cameron is clearly in a pickle over what is best. The best way forward would be to show some resolve and argue coherently against Mr Miliband's populist energy price freeze, which is flawed, sadly.
More than anything, stable energy bills rely on stable energy policy. Mr Cameron should know that.