Labour turns up the pressure on cost of living with Queen’s Speech amendment

Katie Neame
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Labour is looking to drive a wedge between the Conservative leadership and Tory backbenchers over the cost of living. The opposition party has tabled an amendment to the Queen’s Speech – that MPs “respectfully regret” that the government failed to announce a windfall tax during the address “in order to provide much-needed relief from energy price increases for households”. Labour’s Ed Miliband urged Tory MPs to back the amendment, which parliament will have the chance to vote on later today, and stressed the political risk of failing to do so: “You can vote for a windfall tax or you can explain to your constituents why you are refusing to provide them the help that they need.”

The party is going hard on the government’s record on the cost-of-living crisis. On Sky News this morning, Jonathan Ashworth accused ministers of “sleepwalking” into a “cost-of-living tsunami”, highlighting the “severe real-terms cuts” made to Universal Credit and the state pension at a time when bills and prices are skyrocketing. The Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary also repeated a key Labour attack line on the cost of living: the government is simply “out of touch”.

This conclusion is entirely justifiable. Just yesterday, Tory minister Rachel Maclean suggested those struggling with rising costs should be “taking on more hours or moving to a better-paid job” to protect themselves. Environment Secretary George Eustice advised consumers to choose supermarket own-brand items to cut costs. And Boris Johnson responded to the story of a 77-year-old woman who rides the bus all day to keep warm by saying he had introduced free bus passes for pensioners.

Polling for Sky News today revealed that more than four in five people are concerned about the rising cost of living in the coming months, with three in five saying they had turned off their heating to reduce their energy bills. The pressure will be on Tory MPs if they choose not to back Labour’s windfall tax amendment. To be seen to be doing nothing about an issue impacting the vast majority of their constituents would have obvious electoral implications; research ahead of the local elections found the cost of living to be a key issue in voters’ minds.

Some senior Tory MPs have already expressed support for a windfall tax. Robert Halfon called for a windfall tax to respond to the “massive” pain caused by rising prices, while Mel Stride said he believed “there is a case” for such a tax. The cabinet has been deeply divided on the issue. The Prime Minister has said he does not think a windfall tax is the “right way forward” but refused to rule one out in a recent interview. Chancellor Rishi Sunak suggested in April that he would consider introducing a windfall tax if energy companies failed to invest sufficiently in the UK. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, by contrast, has remained steadfastly opposed to the idea.

Labour’s amendment today takes advantage of these tensions. A large rebellion of Tory MPs is not expected, but even a small one would be an embarrassment to the government and would strengthen Labour’s claim to be the party that the country needs at this time of crisis.

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