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UK Politics

Donald Macintyre's Sketch: A button-down solution to one energy crisis


It must be Monday – it’s another Ed Davey statement! The almost daily appearances at the Dispatch Box by the Energy Secretary, in the front line of the battle over those bills, came with a new twist: good news. Or so he fondly thought, a view conspicuously not shared by the Opposition and quite a few Tory backbenchers.

The average consumer would have had a hard time making head or tail of its far from jargon-free complexities. The Government had “reviewed the cost profile of its social and environmental policies” – a marvellously bland euphemism for stripping some of what David Cameron reportedly calls “the green crap” from ever-soaring energy bills and putting it on taxes instead. And average bills would be £50 lower “than they would otherwise have been”. Lucky customers! Only a £70 rise this winter.

Fortunately, Labour MP Fiona O’Donnell was on hand to explain it for the non-technically minded. “That was like a bad Fast Show sketch,” she said. “The consumer gives the energy companies £120; he gives the energy companies £600m and they give the consumer £50 back.”

Davey seemed hurt that his Labour shadow, Caroline Flint, did not, as he protested, “welcome it”. What did he expect? That she would say: “Silly us for suggesting a price freeze. This is just the ticket!” What she actually asked was whether Davey could “confirm that in what he has said today there is not a single measure that will cost  the energy companies a single penny?” 

This was a bit unfair, implied Davey, since the companies had decided “that they will reduce their customers’ bills as a result of these changes”. In other words, they would not actually follow normal big business practice by trousering all the Government concessions for themselves. Which was hardly surprising given the drubbing they’ve had.

In much needed solidarity, Lib Dem ministers Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and Deputy Chief Whip Don Foster all sat on the frontbench for his statement.

Sadly, however, they slipped away before they were most needed, which was when the Tory backbenchers got going. Philip Davies accused Davey of “pursuing exactly the kind of [green] claptrap” as his Labour predecessor Ed Miliband. His constituents wanted  “the cheapest energy, not the greenest energy. When is he going to start doing something about that?”

Davies was unimpressed by Davey’s insistence that what he opaquely called  the “mixed diverse approach” was best. Just as his Tory backbench colleagues were by his response to their  call for an end to VAT on energy bills, namely that it would be illegal.

It’s distressing to report that Davey has still not solved the problems of his out-of-control collar, the wings of which still bend untidily upwards. Today, he kept fingering it as if he realised something was wrong. Can we suggest the button-down shirt? It could do wonders for his image.