We need to reverse our thinking if we are serious about using less energy

Of course John Prescott is right ("How to cut energy use without pain", 20 November): we can reduce consumption and combat global warming with ease. The question is, will we?

No more homes are being insulated now than a decade ago, before we had any Rio conferences, Kyoto protocols or Buenos Aires agreements. Consumers are "enjoying" the lowest real prices for gas and electricity in a generation. They are bombarded with special offers from suppliers, to acquire air miles or supermarket-card points the more fuel is purchased. So why bother to save energy? It may cost them an average 1.7p to save a unit of electricity, compared with 4.3p to generate and transmit; but that is irrelevant to suppliers, who still make more money the more fuel we burn.

The only solution is to alter the regulatory system, placing inescapable obligations upon all those who seek to supply fuel to our homes. This would ensure they provide the direct financial assistance needed to help customers install measures that will reduce consumption. The secret is to reward these energy supply companies by allowing them to make more money the less, not the more, they sell. Without such a formula, Prescott has a Sisyphean task before him if he is really to cut energy use without pain.

Andrew Warren, Director
Association for the Conservation of Energy, London N1

This article first appeared in the 27 November 1998 issue of the New Statesman, How the left hijacked the family

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.