When Ed Miliband announced his eye-catching energy policy, Tory MPs hoped that their party would respond in kind with something similarly interesting to voters but that would really work. They hoped this would underline that the Conservative party is the party of government, while Miliband was only suitable for opposition. George Osborne’s conference fuel duty freeze and his noises about green taxes and levies on fuel bills reassured many of them, but Sir John Major’s intervention yesterday has highlighted the vacuum caused by a refusal by Number 10 to engage with what one strategist described to me as ‘the footling little things’. One MP said after Major’s speech:
‘Number 10 is totally on the wrong page on this. They needed to have properly responded to Ed Miliband but instead said nothing and now the vacuum is filled by both greedy energy companies and John Major.’
Incidentally, there is a conspiracy theory doing the rounds in the Tory party that this intervention was some clever kite-flying from Number 10. ‘It gives Cameron classy, Tory grandee air cover,’ remarked one backbencher. ‘Add this to Maurice Saatchi’s musings in the Mail on Sunday and on Newsnight and it looks like a planned softening up operation,’ he added. But as Number 10 sources are briefing that while they agree with Major that this is indeed a serious concern, it would raise prices in another way, Downing Street is either being super-crafty, or this was a genuinely unhelpful freelance intervention.
P.S. Major’s energy bill comments were unhelpful, but strategists should also be worried by his remarks about ‘lace curtain poverty’ and the ‘silent have-nots’. In the week that ministers hope they can point again to signs that the economy really is on a good trajectory, his picture of the lives of voters who ‘wake up hoping that the lift will work and that the graffiti on the walls won’t be too vile’ is far more dispiriting than the one ministers want to present, even when they say that they understand that things are still tough for hardworking families.Tags: Conservatives, Energy, John Major, UK politics