Sir John Major's call for Big Six profit tax has handed Ed Miliband a stick to beat the Tories with

The former Prime Minister must feel strongly to go against the party line

Share

Lunch in the House of Commons press gallery yesterday was one of those moments that had journalists delighted and puzzled at the same time. Sir John Major, now 16 years from holding the highest office, came to speak and to answer questions. His speech, I am told - I wasn't there - was one of the best that many of my colleagues had heard. Considering that they have only recently hosted Tony Blair - I was there then - I thought they were victims of short-term memory syndrome, which is common among the journalistic fraternity. 

Sir John's speech was so good because it had a strong message: that the Conservative Party ought to be on the side of the hard-working poor. And because it had a lot of news stories in it. Although the biggest news story came in answer to questions. The BBC's Carolyn Quinn asked about the cost of gas and electricity bills and he said the Government should impose a windfall tax to pay for help to the poorest to get through the winter. 

This wasn't an ad lib, though. Sir John is a little more experienced than that. He seemed to have thought through the policy, which was why his performance was so puzzling. What on earth was a former prime minister doing, making the current prime minister's life so difficult and ensuring that Ed Miliband has all the ammunition he needs for Prime Minister's Questions today?

Some of my colleagues reach for a conspiracy theory instinctively, and assume that Sir John is part of a No 10 operation to soften up public opinion for a dramatic new policy to head off Miliband's energy price freeze. I don't think so. I agree with Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, who interprets Downing Street's response, welcoming Sir John's contribution as "interesting", as meaning, "surprising, unhelpful". 

So I can only conclude that Sir John feels strongly about the subject - so strongly that he is happy to say the precise opposite of what he said 16 years ago, when Tony Blair, the free-market Thatcherite traitor to the Labour tradition, proposed a windfall tax on the privatised utilities. So strongly that he is happy to cause wailing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments in No 10 and the Treasury next door. I am told that George Osborne's officials were on the phones to each other and the boss even while Sir John was still on his feet. 

Let us see how PMQs goes. But there is one paradox about Sir John's story-rich contribution to what passes for excitement in political reporting classes. If he had not made the suggestion of a windfall tax, this morning's headlines might have been even worse for David Cameron. The really wounding bits of the speech were those that suggested that the Prime Minister is too posh to understand the hardship of those living in "lace-curtain poverty". Sir John said he understood their problems "because I grew up with them: they were my neighbours, the silent have-notes". The contrast with Cameron's background was striking. 

If Sir John had not gone for the energy companies, the Daily Mail headline this morning would not have been: "Hit Power Firms With a Windfall Tax, Major Urges PM." It might have been: "Toff PM Doesn't Understand Hard-Working Poor, Says Major."

React Now

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

Read Next
Rafael Nadal is down and out, beaten by Dustin Brown at Wimbledon – but an era is not thereby ended  

Sad as it is, Rafael Nadal's decline does not mark the end of tennis's golden era

Tom Peck
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
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