Leading article: Petrol cap in hand

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In attending the Saudi King's energy summit at the weekend, the Prime Minister colluded in a publicity stunt of the first order. Not very long ago, he was so worried about appearing to jeopardise our national sovereignty that he signed the Lisbon Treaty by himself, as far from the glare of television cameras as he could.

Yesterday, the cameras charted his every move, as he hobnobbed with oil producers in Saudi Arabia. The clear intention was to convince hard-pressed British consumers that he feels our pain on energy prices and is doing his level best to bring them down. Whereas David Cameron could only exclaim, in his voter-friendly way, about the exorbitant cost of filling up his car, Gordon Brown could actually go to Jeddah and appeal directly to those with their hands on the spigots. As the only head of government attending this so-called summit, however – most other countries sent energy ministers – Mr Brown came close to demeaning himself and the country. Here, after all, we had a Prime Minister who, as Chancellor, presided over a Treasury well-lubricated with home-produced oil revenue, jetting off to beg the Saudi sheikhs to bring the global price down.

Mr Brown's personal pleading also suggested a solution that simply is not there. The sky-rocketing price of energy in Britain stems at least as much from his own government's tax take and the energy companies' profits as it does from the vagaries of the Saudi oil flow. If production is an issue, then the Iraq war is at least as much to blame. A prime ministerial call for national belt-tightening would be a more honest and dignified approach.