The 2017 Conservative Party conference officially kicks off on Sunday 1 October. But if Theresa May was hoping for a smooth ride in Manchester, she may be out of luck. As MPs in her party are already revolting over two separate policy issues.
The ‘Energy Price Cap’
The Independent reported that 76 Conservative MPs have signed a cross-party letter calling on May to honour the so-called ‘Energy Price Cap’ she pledged before the 8 June general election. And if she doesn’t, they could force an amendment to the autumn budget; potentially damaging May’s already weak position.
As The Canary previously reported, in May, the Conservative Party pledged an energy price cap on electricity and gas bills. Specifically, it promised that the industry regulator Ofgem would set a rate for standard variable tariffs; rates which industry watchdogs often criticise as being a bad deal for consumers. Announcing the policy in The Sun, May said:
Like millions of working families, I am fed up with rip-off energy prices… So I am making this promise: if I am re-elected on June 8, I will take action to end this injustice by introducing a cap on unfair energy price rises.
Oh, hang on…
But the cap never made the Queen’s Speech, with the government instead leaving it to Ofgem to cap pre-payment meters. Effectively, the Tories shelved the policy. And since then, British Gas has announced a 12.5% increase in energy prices; meaning the average household will see its dual fuel bill increase by £76 a year.
Now the 76 Conservatives have joined forces with 116 Labour, SNP and Green MPs “to give families price protection against ‘stitch-up’ energy firms”. And as a sting in the tail, it was a Tory MP, John Penrose, who organised the letter with Labour’s Caroline Flint.
Meanwhile, trouble is also brewing for May over welfare reforms. This time, specifically the controversial rollout of Universal Credit (UC).
As The Telegraph reported [paywall], 12 Conservative MPs have written to the Work And Pensions Secretary, David Gauke, urging him to pause the rollout of UC. They are led by Heidi Allen MP, who believes, as The Telegraph reported [paywall], that Gauke is “listening” to concerns about UC:
I know he’s looking closely at it whether he wants to push that button on accelerating the rollout.
But if Gauke and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) don’t halt the UC rollout, May could face another parliamentary collapse. Because opposition to UC from Labour has been intense, and the party may force a vote on the issue. And it would be one May could lose, due to Allen and her allies voting with Labour.
A universal shambles
As The Canary has documented, UC has been plagued by problems since it was introduced. So much so, 31 Labour MPs have been campaigning to stop the rollout. The MPs cited that in other areas where UC had been rolled out, people had to “wait seven weeks for payment of the benefits”; which put an “incredible strain” on them.
May vs her MPs: Fight!
May is due to make her speech to the Conservative conference on Wednesday 4 October. But the preceding days could be extremely uncomfortable for the PM, with these two revolts threatening not only the strength and stability of the conference, but also May’s wafer-thin parliamentary majority. If you then throw Brexit into the mix, her party conference could be less about ‘a country that works for everyone’, and more about grabbing the popcorn and watching Tories tearing strips off each other.
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