Miliband demands Tories end “appalling vacuum of leadership” amid energy crisis

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Ed Miliband has demanded that Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak end the “appalling vacuum of leadership” as households face sky-rocketing electricity and gas bills.

Commenting ahead of a seventh Tory leadership hustings on Tuesday, the Shadow Climate Change and Net Zero Secretary urged the candidates to clarify during the session if they support Labour’s proposal to freeze energy bills until April 2023.

Miliband said: “The new price cap will be announced on 26 August, and from that moment on, direct debits will start rising, plunging millions into misery and anxiety.

“Energy companies will not wait for the convenience of the Tory leadership contest and its conclusion on 5 September. If this was a banking crisis, the government would act. If this was a war, the government would act.

“This is national emergency facing families, and it cannot wait. The Conservative candidates and the zombie government must end the appalling vacuum of leadership and act.”

Labour set out measures to support households with the rising cost of energy on Monday. The opposition announced that it would freeze gas and electricity prices immediately, keeping the energy price cap at its current level of £1,971 until April – a move it said would save the typical household £1,000.

The party also confirmed plans it outlined last week to scrap energy premiums that customers using prepayments meters face, bringing the price cap for prepayment and standard credit customers in line with those paying by direct debit.

Labour said its package, which would cost £29bn, could be funded by backdating the windfall tax to include excess profits made since January, closing the loophole in the levy allowing tax relief on fossil fuel investment, halting the proposed £400 payments for all households and lowering government interest payments on debt.

Miliband declared: “There is a growing consensus across our society that Labour‘s proposal to freeze energy bills for this winter is the only way forward that will prevent the pain and anguish the British people are facing.

“Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss bear responsibility to act. Tonight, in their hustings, the candidates must immediately clarify whether they agree with Labour’s proposals. And if not, what their alternative proposals are.

“The British people deserve answers, not more delay from a distracted and out-of-touch Conservative government.”

Analysts at Cornwall Insight predicted last week that average energy bills could increase to £3,582 in October and rise to more than £4,200 in January next year.

Sunak unveiled his own plan to cut energy bills for 16 million vulnerable people on Thursday. The former Chancellor declared that he was prepared to find up to £10bn to reduce the impact of October’s price cap rise, on top of the support announced by the government in May, and announced plans to axe VAT on energy bills.

Truss had suggested that she would only provide support to households through tax cuts, including pledging to cancel the National Insurance increase and temporarily suspend green levies on energy bills.

But asked last week whether she was ruling out any form of grant to help with energy bills, the Foreign Secretary said: “That’s not what I said.”

She continued: “My priority is making sure we’re not taking money off people and then giving it back to them later on. I believe in people keeping their own money and I believe in a low-tax economy.”

Boris Johnson, Nadhim Zahawi and Kwasi Kwarteng met with energy company bosses last week to discuss what the companies plan to do with their unprecedented profits but failed to agree any new support measures.

The Treasury revealed that the Chancellor and the energy firms had agreed to “work closely” over the coming weeks to “ensure that the public, including vulnerable customers, are supported”. But the Prime Minister has said it would fall to his successor to make “significant fiscal decisions”.

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