Ed Balls has secured a debate for next week calling for the government to postpone for a second time the 3p rise in fuel duty that is due this January. It’s a pretty shameless move by the Shadow Chancellor, given these rises are ones that Labour instituted in 2009 and 2010. But he clearly believes that it is worth a little bit of political positioning similar to his chutzpah on the EU budget.
In an article for PoliticsHome, Balls tries to address the rather awkward point about his own party’s policy on fuel duty rises, writing:
‘Of course difficult decisions are needed to get the deficit down. That’s why Labour put up fuel duty in the past. But we often delayed or cancelled planned duty rises based on the circumstances at the time – including at the height of the global financial crisis. And I am clear that now is not the right time to hit the economy with another tax rise on small firms and people on low and middle incomes.’
Balls is also trying to steal the thunder of a backbench Tory campaign against the fuel duty increase, which might make the vote interesting. I understand Robert Halfon, who has long campaigned for cheaper petrol, will vote with Labour, even if it pains him to do so. Other colleagues who have supported the campaign may also do so, but it will be interesting to see how many join the vote: there was great discomfort within the party about collusion with Labour on the EU budget rebellion.
It is also a challenge for the whips. A previous motion tabled by Halfon himself off the back of an e-petition in November 2011 gained the support of 116 MPs from across the house, and the whips were relaxed about Conservatives supporting it. Funnily enough, the vote last autumn came hot on the heels of the embarrassing rebellion of 81 Tory MPs on the motion calling for an EU referendum, and a three-line whip was watered down to allow MPs to vote as they pleased to avoid another revolt. As this vote comes a week and a half after this year’s EU revolt on the multi-annual budget, the whips may be tempted to do the same, even if it is a Labour motion.
P.S. It’s worth noting that Halfon has tabled an early day motion on this very subject, calling for the proceeds of the 4G auction to cover the cost of scrapping the fuel duty hike.