Cost of living crisis: Will new Tory Prime Minister save us from coming storm or watch as economy is wrecked? – Christine Jardine MP

I think the best thing that can be said about this summer is that it has been one that few of us will forget, although many of us might want to.

The winner of the Conservative party leadership contest is set to be formally announced today (Picture: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
The winner of the Conservative party leadership contest is set to be formally announced today (Picture: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Oh, there were some fantastic highs. The opening up of major events that let us enjoy the feeling that the worst of Covid might be over.

Wimbledon back to its full glory. The Commonwealth Games in Birmingham with British successes to cheer. And weather that allowed our children to revel in the outdoors while our community events blossomed again.

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All of that was in stark contrast to the political and economic trends gathering on the horizon like storm clouds about to break.

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Both parliaments return this week after recesses that should have been cut short weeks ago to deal with the economic crisis, energy prices and the unfolding mess that is the SNP/Green administration’s mishandling of Scotland.

Meanwhile at Westminster, the government which has been missing in action all summer will finally turn up, if only to find out who its new leader is.

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For many of us, the question will be whether the new Prime Minister will be equipped to deal with the crises that have gone unaddressed while the country awaited the outcome of their party’s decision-making process.

And does the government actually even understand the extent of the fear being felt across the country at what this winter might bring?

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A survey carried out by the Liberal Democrats revealed this past week that almost one in four adults is planning not to turn on their heating over the winter because of the potential cost. That figure rises to more than one in four when they focused on adults with children under the age of 18. Similar research carried out by Savanta discovered that more than two thirds of us will be limiting our use of heating.

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I know, not just from those figures, but from conversations with charities and my own constituents in Edinburgh West that the heart-breaking choice of whether to eat or to heat their homes will be a very real one for families and pensioners this winter.

The cost of energy is a bitter pill too for many small businesses who struggled through the pandemic only to find themselves now facing insurmountable costs with no help from either government.

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So what is it that our new Prime Minister will do to turn around our ailing economy and boost public and business confidence?

After almost two months of listening to them both on a daily, un-mutable feed, I have to say, I am not really sure.

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It may be cutting taxes, it may not. It could be reversing the National Insurance hike which is doing so much to damage small businesses, or it may not.

It’s difficult to read the true intentions of a new Prime Minister who has spent six weeks looking inward, perhaps to the exclusion of the wider electorate.

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With Journey’s Don't Stop Believin' played at the start of the 12 hustings, the lyrics seemed aimed more at Tory members than the public, or perhaps the candidates themselves.

And what did we hear across these hours of “debate”. Not style, not substance. An outline of a bit of plan, perhaps, but not enough to settle hearts or minds.

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If one more leading Conservative tells us all to wait and see, I suspect we may hear a collective, national, scream of frustration.

We have waited more than long enough. There are solutions on offer and we need the government to say which one it is going to choose.

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My own party the Liberal Democrats put forward a proposal to freeze the price of energy earlier this summer. We had even prepared legislation which, if parliament had been recalled, could have been in place before Ofgem raised the cap. People could have been reassured.

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Conservative Prime Ministers have told us that repeatedly.

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And yet they have had nothing to reassure them that they will not simply be allowed to go under by a government that is dithering rather than throwing them a lifeline.

A rescue package could, for example, offer grants of up to £50,000 to small businesses to cover 80 per cent of the increase in their energy bills for one year.

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And while that is my own party’s scheme I know that energy companies, the Labour party, charities and other organisations are all bringing forward proposals.

Former Chancellor Alistair Darling, who knows a thing or two about dealing with an economic crisis, has called for quick, decisive action.

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The only silent voice is that of those elected to do precisely that job.

I know there has been tinkering round the edges with a few hundred pounds in targeted help. While that is welcome, it doesn’t touch the sides or recognise the widespread nature of the problem.

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We are all going to feel the impact in some way. What we need is for the new Prime Minister to introduce laws to support families and businesses as soon as they take office this week. They could fund it by reversing the Conservatives’ planned tax cuts for big banks, who are seeing their profits grow with rising interest rates.

They could cancel the government’s cut to the bank surcharge that is due to take effect in April and by restoring the bank levy to 2015 levels. That would raise £10.6 billion over the next four years. The windfall tax could be strengthened to raise £20 billion and there is a multi-billion increase to the Exchequer coming from inflationary increases in prices and VAT.

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There are so many options. But only for a government that is willing to take them.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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