James Forsyth

Energy bills are Johnson’s next big battle

Energy bills are Johnson's next big battle
(Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament)
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Keir Starmer is not a lucky politician. He has again been forced into self isolation after testing positive for Covid, which means he misses the first PMQs of the year. This is the Labour leader’s sixth period of self-isolation.

So, instead it will be Rayner versus Johnson at PMQs at the later time of 3 p.m. this afternoon. These contests are normally more hammer and tongs than the Johnson–Starmer ones. Rayner’s style is more direct than Starmer’s; and is often more effective in rattling Johnson. 

The obvious area for her to go on today is cutting VAT on household energy bills. Labour is already in favour of this and Tory MPs are getting increasingly agitated about the issue. But as yesterday’s press conference showed, Johnson is holding out against it. There are valid reasons for not wanting to go down this path: it is a very untargeted measure. But the problem for Johnson is how warmly he embraced the idea during the Brexit referendum campaign.

2022 looks like being the most politically difficult year yet for Johnson. Even if the government’s decision not to impose more restrictions ends up looking justified, he’ll still have to deal with the cost of living crisis that rising inflation will cause. At the moment, the government has no plan for how to help voters with this. That is politically unsustainable.