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Tories are beginning to see an energy windfall tax as a “no brainer”

Stuck for ideas to address the cost-of-living crisis, some Conservatives now view Labour’s proposal as an easy win.

By Harry Lambert

A Tory MP, whose identity is strongly suspected by many in Westminster but who is yet to be named, has been arrested “on suspicion of indecent assault, sexual assault, rape, abuse of position of trust and misconduct in a public office” for alleged offences committed over a seven-year period, between 2002 and 2009. The arrest follows a two-year police investigation. The MP has been instructed by Tory whips to stay away from the parliamentary estate during the investigation.

The MP is the fifth Tory MP since the 2019 election to have become embroiled in controversy over their sexual behaviour: Rob Roberts and David Warburton both had the whip withdrawn due to claims of sexual harassment, while Imran Ahmad Khan was forced to resign after he was convicted last month of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. And then there’s the recently resigned Neil Parish, a man who would have benefitted from a ban on mobile phones in the Commons chamber. Five MPs from other parties have also lost the whip since 2019, three Labour MPs among them (though none for breaches involving sexual misconduct): Neil Coyle, Claudia Webbe and Jeremy Corbyn.

The news, which broke yesterday afternoon, after many MPs and journalists had crowded onto a sun-splashed House of Commons terrace for a drink, is competing for coverage this morning with the major story of the day: the growing momentum behind a windfall tax on oil and gas giants, or as it might perhaps be better known, the countdown to this government’s latest proud U-turn.

A Tory MP described the tax to me yesterday as a “no brainer” and a “free hit” for the government. More importantly, the MP said that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, no longer looks at them askance when they raise the idea. They think the government’s opposition is thawing, despite the ideological resistance of cabinet ministers from Kwasi Kwarteng and Liz Truss to Jacob Rees-Mogg. The Telegraph splashes on internal government polling showing that four in five voters back the idea, although the Times thinks that Sunak wants to focus on heating-bill discounts and an eventual income tax cut rather than committing to a windfall levy just yet.

A Scottish Tory MP who opposes a windfall tax, fearing its impact on jobs locally, thinks that “the ball is in the oil and gas companies’ court”. If they commit to using their recent record revenues to invest, Sunak may spare them. “I don’t think it’s a done deal yet,” says the MP.

A nominally populist government is once again failing to do something that is plainly popular (it has form in this respect). It may yet buckle. If it does, the story, a Labour source suggests, is “that the Tories are going to steal the windfall tax because they are out of ideas”. “If they have given up on their own ideas, and are just stealing ours,” they ask, “where does that leave them?” I fear the answer for Labour may be: exactly where the Tories have often been left – in power. Arguably, the Conservative Party has been stealing Labour’s best ideas for the past five years, if not the past 75. But it’s the Tories who are typically entrusted by the public with enacting them.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

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