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.

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Junior DBA (SQL Server, T-SQL, SSIS, SSAS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior DBA (SQ...

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Senior Project Manager

£60000 - £90000 per annum + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Global leading Energy Tra...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment