By Tim Montgomerie
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The Sun's signature campaign in recent weeks has been the campaign that has also been spearheaded by Tory MP for Harlow – Rob Halfon – lower fuel duty and, in particular, a call to cancel or at least postpone the 3p increase in fuel duty that is scheduled for August. In one of her recent columns for this website Nadine Dorries added her voice to the cause. "The 3p," she wrote, "will become another huge issue of resentment and along with so many other policies which directly hit strivers straight in the purse, will cost us another few points in the polls."
Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, has now jumped on the bandwagon in an article for this morning's Sun. Engaging in a bit of class war, he writes: "David Cameron and George Osborne may have never had to worry about the cost of filling up their car. But it’s time they started listening to those who do." He then suggests how it might be financed:
"Labour is calling on the Chancellor to stop August’s fuel duty rise – at least until next January. We will put it to a vote in Parliament next week. And we are asking MPs from all parties to stand up for their constituents and support us. Ministers will say they can’t afford this – even though they found money to give a tax cut to millionaires. But there are many ways they could raise the funds. They could close the tax loopholes David Cameron condemned last week – and stop the hundreds of millions of pounds lost through offshore tax havens. They could reverse the pension tax relief boost they’ve given to people on over £150,000. And they could use the £500million under-spent in the Olympics budget."
In its Sun Says column Ed Balls gets a thumbs up. "For once," it writes, "the shadow chancellor has his head screwed on right".
George Osborne has been reluctant to cancel the 3p rise despite opinion polls showing that the tax is very unpopular because he thinks there are more politically potent ways of using scarce funds. He fears that he could spend billions on cutting duty but get no thanks if fluctuations in world oil prices quickly overwhelm the effect. If he has money to spare he thinks the funding of a council tax freeze, for example, is more tangible.
Conservative HQ will also be disappointed with The Sun's reaction to yesterday's speech by the Prime Minister on welfare. It accuses him of "waffle" (second leader) while the welfare bills soar. Such are the delights of being in government with the Liberal Democrats. The Sun (like this morning's Times (£)) also believes that better off pensioners should be sharing in the cuts before the axe falls even harder on working age families. Paul Goodman addressed this issue yesterday.