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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy