Margaret Thatcher’s former energy secretary has denounced the plans of the two candidates for the Tory leadership to deal with the power price crisis as “completely inadequate”.
David Howell said that the expected hike in the energy price cap to an average £3,700 or more will “paralyse” the lives of huge numbers of Britons.
He called for immediate action to relieve suffering this winter, both through grants and loans to those most vulnerable and through international diplomacy to open up more supplies of gas and oil.
Both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have said they are ready to look at means of easing pressure on families facing a cost-of-living crisis, with inflation forecast by the Bank of England to hit 13 per cent this year.
But while the former chancellor has indicated he is considering extending the £15bn package of direct payments he introduced earlier this year if he becomes prime minister, Ms Truss has said she will focus on tax cuts rather than “handouts”.
Despite calls for an emergency budget from former prime minister Gordon Brown and anti-poverty campaigners, neither has yet set out specific proposals to respond to higher-than-expected rises in energy prices.
Asked whether he thought the leadership contenders had grasped the scale of the problem, Lord Howell of Guildford told LBC radio: “I think they’re completely inadequate, absolutely inadequate.
“They are not addressing the horror – the horrific autumn, it’s been called. This is going to paralyse the lives of a vast number of families in this country.
“There has got to be international action, there has got to be an increased supply, as well as these various grants and loans and so on.”
Lord Howell, who served as minister for international energy policy under David Cameron and is a former president of the British Council of Energy Economics and chair of the Windsor Energy Group, said that the current crisis could not be solved by promises of future expansion of North Sea fields, nuclear plants, wind and solar power.
“The North Sea is fine, wind and sun are fine – let’s have more of that,” he told interviewer Ben Kentish. “But they all take three or four years to get going.
“It’s no good telling them, like Marie Antoinette, ‘We’ve got wonderful long-term visions for you’ – nuclear in 15 years’ time and so on.
“That’s like saying ‘Let them eat cake’. I’m sorry, we need immediate action now.”
Lord Howell said the two leadership candidates did not appear to understand the need for diplomatic efforts to boost supplies.
“I don’t think they understand the international global market and why this is all coming,” he said.
“It’s been coming at us for years and we’re in a rotten position to meet it.
“It requires international diplomacy of the highest order, operations with like-minded friends right through the world and getting Asia more on side with us.
“We’ve ignored the Commonwealth and we’ve ignored our friends, so they’re not on the right side. These are huge diplomatic initiatives that should have been taken. Diplomacy, in my view, is fast asleep.“