Fuel poverty 'unacceptable': Sir John Major calls for excess profit tax on Big Six energy firms

Former Prime Minister says energy companies should fund people struggling to pay winter bills

Deputy Political Editor

Sir John Major challenged ministers to levy a windfall tax this winter on energy companies’ profits to protect the neediest in society as he warned Conservative chiefs of the electoral dangers of vacating the political centre ground.

The former Prime Minister urged his party to reconnect with voters in the North of England, where it had been relegated to the political fringe, and to help poor families struggling to make ends meet in tower blocks and council estates.

He predicted the Government would have to step in to prevent families from having to choose between heating and eating if there is a bitterly cold spell of weather.

Both Downing Street and Conservative sources distanced themselves from his comments, which follow Labour leader Ed Miliband’s promise of a 19-month freeze on gas and electricity prices if he wins the next general election.

But they failed to rule out the move entirely, stressing they had “no plans” to impose a windfall tax on the profits of the Big Six energy companies which are raising prices by up to ten per cent this year.

Speaking at a Westminster lunch, Sir John said Mr Miliband’s heart “was in the right place” but his head had “gone walkabout”.

The former Prime Minister added: “He did touch on an issue that’s very important. The private sector is something the Conservative party support, but when the private sector goes wrong or behaves badly I think it is entirely right to make changes and put it right.”

He said: “It is not acceptable to me, it ought not to be acceptable to anyone, that many people are going to have to choose between keeping warm and eating.”

Sir John forecast ministers would have to intervene if there was a cold snap and said it would be perfectly acceptable for them to “levy an excess profits tax on the energy companies and claw that money back to the Exchequer”.

Last night Mr Miliband seized on the comments. He tweeted: “Sir John Major makes Labour’s argument: David Cameron stands up for the energy companies not hard-pressed families.”

In a wide-ranging speech, Sir John, whose premiership was dogged by Tory in-fighting over Europe, warned the Tories they would turn off the voters unless they spent less time on ideological wrangling over Britain’s relationship with Brussels.

He warned the party’s right-wing: “If we Tories navel-gaze and only pander to our comfort zone we will never win general elections. All the core vote delivers is the wooden spoon.”

Sir John said the party faced an uphill struggle to win the election, adding that it needed to connect with the concerns in cities such as Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Glasgow and Cardiff.

He argued that all parties had neglected the pressures faced by the “silent have-nots” and the “dignified poor, or near-poor”, as well as the “lace curtain poverty” endured by the elderly.

Sir John praised Mr Cameron for “seeking to reclaim territory that is at the very heart of the sort of values that made me join the Conservative Party”, adding it was “at its best when it is tolerant and open and at its worse when it is hectoring and censorious”.

Although he insisted he backed Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms, he took a swipe at the Work and Pensions Secretary, who was a prominent critic of Sir John during the party’s battles over Europe.

Urging the minister to consult widely over his plans, Sir John said: “Unless Iain Duncan Smith is very lucky, which he may not be, or a genius, which is unproven, he may get some of it wrong.”

Major malfunction: What did Sir John say about today's politics?

“The Tories only ever plot against themselves. Labour are more egalitarian. They plot against everyone” – on the Conservative tendency to internecine strife.

“For the foreseeable future, the threat of a federal Europe is as dead as Jacob Marley. The ghost may return but for now there are more important matters for Parliament to discuss” – on Europe.

“There’s no point in telling people to get on their bike if there’s nowhere to live when they get there” – on the lack of house-building.

“A hundred years ago Lloyd George homes fit for heroes. Today too many live in tower blocks, estates and slums that frankly are fit for no one” – on poverty.

“We should have done more and I'm sorry in retrospect that we didn’t. It is one of many things that you can look back on and regret” – on helping the victims of the Hillsborough disaster.

“I don’t join in the general denigration there has been over the last few years of Nick Clegg…The difficult decision he did put himself into in the national interest was the right thing to do” – on Nick Clegg.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Environmental Account Manager - Remote Working

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Support / IT Sales / Graduate Sales / Trainee

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has now arisen for a Sale...

Recruitment Genius: Administration Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued growth an exce...

Recruitment Genius: Service Manager

£37000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable