Mark Steel: If only we'd shopped around more

Huhne will deal with electricity prices by saying he's hoping for a mild winter
  • @mrmarksteel

Now Liam Fox has gone, maybe the next one to resign should be Chris Huhne, the Secretary of State for Energy, on the grounds that's he's pointless. After meeting the energy companies his statement on rising energy bills was that we should check to see if we're paying the cheapest rate, and maybe change to a different company if we're not.

Now THAT is leadership, having the vision to speak out boldly and say "Well if you shop around, you never know, you might get something a bit cheaper". Maybe they'll all copy this style, so George Osborne's next budget will go: "The forecasts are direr than we ever imagined. But never mind, because only yesterday Morrisons were offering tins of sweetcorn at three for the price of two. And these things all add up."

So it's a good job the Liberal Democrats are in the Coalition, otherwise there'd be no one to restrain the Conservatives, by standing firm on the principle that cheaper things cost less. Less experienced energy ministers might have become distracted by the fact that the companies they'd just met are making eight times as much profit from each household they supply, than they were three years ago. Chris Huhne dealt with this issue by pointing out the energy companies had to make a profit because "They're not the Salvation Army".

Even the energy regulator Ofgem has said the energy companies' profits are outrageous, so they've obviously been infiltrated by soppy Christians whose next statement on energy prices will probably be sung outside a shopping centre and go "Rejoice for our Lord is Jesus the saviour, but HE can't afford npower's bastard behaviour."

And if Chris Huhne hears that some people think energy companies should be restricted to making only seven times as much profit as three years ago, he'll say "Take no notice, they must all be Hare Krishnas". Because Chris Huhne lives in the real world, in which a minister of energy addresses the issue of energy prices spiralling upwards by saying he can't do anything about the energy companies as he's only the energy minister.

It's fitting he's spoken out in this way, in the week the Americans celebrated their new statue of another great orator, Martin Luther King, whose famous speech would have been even more powerful if it had gone "I've spoken to the Ku Klux Klan, and what I suggest is maybe some of you should look around at the less racist states and see if you can swap to one of them."

And next week Huhne will announce "I'm aware of the hardship caused by rising electricity prices, but I have done all I can by hoping we have a mild winter. That is the sort of firm and resolute action this government is prepared to take."