It is 29 days since Ed Miliband made his speech at Labour conference.
It is 28 days since I argued that the Conservatives should counter it with a viable alternative, not just with criticism.
Specifically, that they should propose an alternative which included:
“pledging to open up new, cheap energy sources, such as shale gas, on a large scale; by destroying the dominance of the Big Six through a radical expansion of competition; by putting a wrecking ball through the complex web of taxes, subsidies and levies which he imposed on consumers; by celebrating affordable energy as part of the restoration of British manufacturing.”
Many others have called for such an approach in the intervening month, but the Government has dragged its feet.
Privately, senior Conservatives admit that the response has been too slow – that they allowed Miliband to turn heads and grab headlines for too long, and that their lack of an alternative allowed him to caricature the Government’s position however he wished.
Today, the Prime Minister has at last offered a glimmer of a reply.
His Government, he said at PMQs, would seek to “roll back” green taxes, and would also launch an annual review of how the energy market functions. The latter is pretty dry stuff – and an annual review does not suggest much confidence that he expect to solve the sector’s problems any time soon. The green tax move, on the other hand, is potentially more exciting.
We know there is opposition from the Lib Dems, but they should be confronted about it publicly. They wouldn’t hesitate to do the same to us (see Nick Clegg on Free Schools earlier in the week) and there are votes to be won with a clear, conservative message about reducing the cost of living by cutting taxes. Either they would agree to support such a move, or they would have to explain to the public why they are defending the painful green taxes Ed Miliband introduced as Energy Secretary.
This is a u-turn for the Conservative leadership, which is never a comfortable thing for a politician to do. Just as Osborne eventually accepted the impracticality of matching Labour’s spending plans, Cameron must now recant his support for green taxes, levies and over-regulation. Many of us might wish that this had been the Conservative position all along, but better late than never.
The Prime Minister can now choose how much discomfort he and his colleagues will suffer in the process of ditching the old line.
Like removing a sticking plaster, he can do it the timid, inch-by-inch way, which involves more pain in the long run, or he can do it in one smart pull.
The last four weeks have felt like the most excruciatingly slow peeling off of a plaster imaginable. It can’t go on – instead of waiting until the Autumn Statement to act, or getting bogged down in private rows with the Lib Dems, he should grab the problem firmly, whip it off and be done with it.
It may sting, but he’ll feel better soon after.