Remember when Gordon Brown came up against Fern Britton in a TV interview? I’ve pasted the video above to remind CoffeeHousers of two persistent truths: how tricky a subject petrol costs can be for
a serving Prime Minister (watch on from around the 0:50 mark), and how Labour are hardly blameless when it comes to the current cost of fuel. As Britton asks in the interview, "How much tax do
you put on the fuel?" And the answer that Brown mumbled to avoid, from a House of Commons briefing note at the time, was this:
In other words, for a huge portion of the New Labour years, fuel duty accounted for over half of the petrol price at the pumps. For a typical litre of fuel, duty was 36.86 pence when Labour came to
power, and 57.19 pence when they left. The fuel duty hikes that the coalition are planning were pencilled in by Alastair Darling.
Funny how Ed Balls doesn’t mention any of this in his article for the Sun today, a
follow-up to his interview with yesterday’s Sunday Times. Instead, he offers four prescriptions for the government:
"While he gave banks a tax cut compared to last year, they are now going to pay £800million more than this Government was planning. He should use the extra money to reverse the VAT
rise on petrol.
Secondly, he should look at April’s annual fuel duty rise. Labour often postponed planned duty rises when world oil prices were rising.
Thirdly, he must work with finance ministers globally to keep the oil supply flowing and get prices down.
Finally, he must get our economy moving and get more people in work and paying taxes."
But while there’s a brazenness to Balls’ attack, you can’t really blame him for trying. It’s his prerogative as an Opposition politician to exploit issues to the government’s discomfort
– and, as I wrote yesterday, this one is dynamite. If you want a sense of
how dangerous the numbers are for the government, then consider this: we now have one of the highest petrol prices in all Europe. Here’s the graph:
The price in the US, by the way, is 51.16 pence a litre.
The government will still only say that it is "considering" a fuel duty stabiliser to counteract the price rises. But I have little doubt that there will be some measure or other in the
Budget – if only a postponement of the planned 1p hike in duty. This, as New Labour and Gordon Brown demonstrated all too well, is a toxic area for politicians. Ed Balls is making the most of
it. David Cameron, for his part, should avoid being interviewed by Fern Britton.