Don’t whip out the cava just yet, CoffeeHousers. Inflation, in both its CPI and RPI incarnations, may be down on last month’s figures, but the
"http://twitter.com/#!/Spectator_CH/status/136376361647472640">latest numbers are hardly cause for jubilation. At 5.0 per cent in October, CPI is still over double the Bank of England’s target
figure, and it’s far outpacing the average growth in people’s wages. The truth is that living costs remain constrictive, and at a time when the economy could teeter back into cataclysm at any
Hence Robert Halfon’s motion on fuel prices, which will be debated in the Commons today. It’s another one of those motions triggered by an e-petition (112,189 signatures
"http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/347">and rising), and it makes a simple plea: people are struggling, so how about doing more to cut the cost of fuel? Specifically, Halfon is calling
on the government to scrap a 3p rise in fuel duty scheduled for January and a 1p rise for August, as well as introduce a new ‘price stabilisation mechanism’ to keep things in check. The
motion, as opposed to the e-petition, has already been signed by around 100 MPs, including some 83 Tories.
So far, No.10 is being far more conciliatory than it was ahead of the EU referendum debate. Today’s voting, for instance, will likely be more loosely whipped. And although the government is making
a case for its current policy — in particular, by pointing to yesterday’s ONS report showing that, as a proportion of the price
paid at the pump, fuel taxes have fallen over the past decade — it is also suggesting that more might be done in future.
Indeed, today’s Times reports (£) that George Osborne may concede to at least one of Halfon’s demands, and scrap
the 3p duty rise for January. It would lose the Exchequer around £1.5 billion — which is money they will struggle to give up — but I still wouldn’t be surprised if Osborne
announced it in his Pre-Budget Report statement later this month. The Tory leadership are hyperaware that fuel and energy prices rank high among voters’ concerns, and they are eager to anaesthetise
those concerns as soon as they can. And so they should be: the latest government figures show that,
even with Osborne’s action on fuel duty so far, petrol is effectively taxed at over 150 per cent.
In the meantime, today’s vote. Labour are wading into the fray with a Milibacked amendment (see here) that
overwrites Halfon’s motion with a demand that the government reverses its VAT hike, thus cutting 3p from the price of a litre of petrol. ‘The UK economy has flatlined for 12 months, well
before the current Eurozone crisis,’ it urges with partisan vigour. These e-petition votes may be a new phenomenon, but some of the politics around them is wearily familiar.