U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne was accused of cowardice by a lawmaker in his own Conservative Party for sending a junior Treasury minister to defend a retreat on a planned gasoline-duty increase.
Osborne yesterday scrapped a 3 pence (4.7 cents) per-liter rise in fuel duty that was due to take effect in August, his fourth U-turn in a month. Economic Secretary Chloe Smith, 30 and a minister since October, appeared on media broadcasts including BBC Television’s “Newsnight” program to answer for the move. Her performance drew derision from lawmakers and commentators.
“I was at a dinner last night so didn’t see Newsnight,” Conservative lawmaker Nadine Dorries wrote on her Twitter Inc. account today. “However, if Osborne sent Chloe on re. scrapping 3p he is a coward as well as arrogant.”
Dorries, whose parliamentary district may disappear under planned boundary changes at the next election, has already criticized Osborne and Prime Minister David Cameron as “arrogant posh boys who don’t know the price of milk.”
Her intervention may point to wider dissatisfaction in the Conservative Party, which governs in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, said Bill Jones, professor of politics at Liverpool Hope University,.
“Given the discontent on the right of the Conservative Party, Nadine Dorries could be the tip of the iceberg,” Jones said in a telephone interview. “If her remark gains traction it is potentially very dangerous.”
The decision to freeze fuel duty until January came on the same day that Ed Balls, who shadows Osborne for the Labour opposition, urged Conservative lawmakers to rebel against the government on fuel duty in a vote next week. About 50 lawmakers, including seven Conservatives, backed the Fair Fuel U.K. campaign led by television motoring show presenter Quentin Wilson.
It followed climbdowns over plans announced in the March 21 budget to levy value-added tax on hot takeaway snacks, charge the full VAT rate on mobile homes and include charitable donations in a cap on tax relief.
In Parliament today, Cameron denied the move was a U-turn as he had inherited the planned increase from the previous Labour government.
“They put in place 12 increases in fuel duty in government,” he said. “They left behind six increases in fuel duty and I’m proud of the fact we are dealing with them.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband said the decision was made out of panic and accused Cameron and Osborne of failing to consult Cabinet colleagues before the announcement was made.
“It was all part of a seamless political strategy?” Miliband said. “Unfortunately they forgot to tell the Transport Secretary. Let’s call it what it is: another case of panic at the pumps.”