Dear commuter, how’s your journey panning out after you were woken by the sound of Ed Balls politicking about fuel duty? The shadow chancellor was a ubiquitous presence on the airwaves earlier (to say nothing of the tabloid press), laying out his opposition to the planned 3.02p fuel duty rise. He was on fine form, playing the caring shadow chancellor with the ease that Andrea Pirlo takes penalties. The rise would be, he said, ‘a real own goal’. Families are struggling. We’re in a recession. The price of oil has fallen by 20 per cent since Christmas but that has not been passed on to the consumer at the pumps. ‘The government should be pressuring oil companies to get the pump price down,’ he said.
Balls and Labour have been strongest and clearest when talking about the cost of living and the government’s inability to curb corporate greed. The calamitous juxtaposition of a top-rate income tax cut and a new levy on pasties was a gift made in Heaven for Balls, and fuel duty enables him to pull off the same trick. He said that the government should ease pressure on hard working families by delaying the increase and it should be tough on large companies. He said that living standards, and by extension the economy, will be squeezed further by this rise. Justine Greening, the transport secretary, has said that she will ‘challenge petrol retailers to pass on reductions to motorists’ but the duty will go ahead as planned, although the House will vote on this next week.
Greening has a problem in that some Tory backbenchers agree with the thrust of Balls’ argument. Indeed, you might say that Balls has adopted a Tory backbench position. The Conservative MP for Harlow, Robert Halfon, has been running a vocal campaign against fuel duty increases for more than a year. His argument is that rising prices are pushing drivers on low incomes in the economically stagnant shires into fuel poverty, which is restricting their movement and therefore impeding economic growth. Nick de Bois, a prominent member of the influential 1922 Committee, takes a similar line. And Douglas Carswell shares their view, saying today that ‘Clacton folk can’t afford it [the rise]’.
I understand that several other Tory MPs are preparing to oppose the government publicly. The underlying analysis is that the government must do more to honour its words on lowering the cost of living. Petrol prices often top lists of voters’ concerns, and, with the government already preparing the ground for the 2015 election, it’s little surprise that nervous backbenchers are also looking to the future.Tags: Cost of living, Economy, Ed Balls, Fuel duty, Justine Greening, Labour