Cameron's plan to "roll back" green charges could mean higher taxes, says Clegg

The Deputy PM suggests that the cost of green policies could be transferred from consumer bills to general taxation.

After David Cameron's surprise pledge at PMQs to "roll back" the "green regulations and charges that are putting up bills", Nick Clegg made little attempt to hide the extent of his disagreement with the Prime Minister this morning. He told the Today programme that he wasn't "fully expecting" Cameron's intervention (his office was given 30-minutes' notice) and that he didn't agree with the Tories that higher bills were "all the fault of us caring about the environment". He rightly pointed out that the majority of the green charges attacked by Cameron are actually energy efficiency measures designed to aid fuel-poor households, including the Energy Company Obligation (£50), the Warm Home Discount for pensioners (£11) and smart meters and better billing (£3). 

But sounding a more conciliatory note, he promised that he and Cameron would "come up, as we always do in coalition, with a solution in the national interest and resolve our differences". What could that solution be? As I noted yesterday, one option would be to transfer the cost of some of these green measures from consumer bills to general taxation, as the SNP pledged to do last week. In his Today interview, Clegg suggested just this, stating that policies such as the Warm Home Discount could be paid for out of "government expenditure". If there is to be a coalition compromise, expect it to look something like this. 

Whether this move would resolve Cameron's political troubles is doubtful; Labour would simply reply that the government is giving with one hand and taking with another. Owing to higher wholesale prices and profiteering by the big six, bills will continue to rise remorselessly. The public, 75% of whom don't believe that green taxes are to blame for steeper prices, will see no evidence that the government is prepared to side with them against the energy companies. Until that changes, Miliband's big freeze will continue to give him the edge. 

Nick Clegg speaks at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton last month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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The campaign to keep Britain in Europe must be based on hope, not fear

Together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of.

Today the Liberal Democrats launched our national campaign to keep Britain in Europe. With the polls showing the outcome of this referendum is on a knife-edge, our party is determined to play a decisive role in this once in a generation fight. This will not be an easy campaign. But it is one we will relish as the UK's most outward-looking and internationalist party. Together in Europe the UK has delivered peace, created the world’s largest free trade area and given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely across the continent. Now is the time to build on these achievements, not throw them all away.

Already we are hearing fear-mongering from both sides in this heated debate. On the one hand, Ukip and the feuding Leave campaigns have shamelessly seized on the events in Cologne at New Year to claim that British women will be at risk if the UK stays in Europe. On the other, David Cameron claims that the refugees he derides as a "bunch of migrants" in Calais will all descend on the other side of the Channel the minute Britain leaves the EU. The British public deserve better than this. Rather than constant mud-slinging and politicising of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, we need a frank and honest debate about what is really at stake. Most importantly this should be a positive campaign, one that is fought on hope and not on fear. As we have a seen in Scotland, a referendum won through scare tactics alone risks winning the battle but losing the war.

The voice of business and civil society, from scientists and the police to environmental charities, have a crucial role to play in explaining how being in the EU benefits the British economy and enhances people's everyday lives. All those who believe in Britain's EU membership must not be afraid to speak out and make the positive case why being in Europe makes us more prosperous, stable and secure. Because at its heart this debate is not just about facts and figures, it is about what kind of country we want to be.

The Leave campaigns cannot agree what they believe in. Some want the UK to be an offshore, deregulated tax haven, others advocate a protectionist, mean-hearted country that shuts it doors to the world. As with so many populist movements, from Putin to Trump, they are defined not by what they are for but what they are against. Their failure to come up with a credible vision for our country's future is not patriotic, it is irresponsible.

This leaves the field open to put forward a united vision of Britain's place in Europe and the world. Liberal Democrats are clear what we believe in: an open, inclusive and tolerant nation that stands tall in the world and doesn't hide from it. We are not uncritical of the EU's institutions. Indeed as Liberals, we fiercely believe that power must be devolved to the lowest possible level, empowering communities and individuals wherever possible to make decisions for themselves. But we recognise that staying in Europe is the best way to find the solutions to the problems that don't stop at borders, rather than leaving them to our children and grandchildren. We believe Britain must put itself at the heart of our continent's future and shape a more effective and more accountable Europe, focused on responding to major global challenges we face.

Together in Europe we can build a strong and prosperous future, from pioneering research into life-saving new medicines to tackling climate change and fighting international crime. Together we can provide hope for the desperate and spread the peace we now take for granted to the rest of the world. And together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of. So if you agree then join the Liberal Democrat campaign today, to remain in together, and to stand up for the type of Britain you think we should be.