More than two-thirds of Conservative voters say that the government should temporarily renationalise energy companies if they cannot offer lower bills, according to polling.
The poll, released by the campaigning organisation 38 Degrees, also shows overwhelming support for Labour’s policy to freeze the price cap this year, keeping it at its current rate of £1,971. The Opinium poll found 86% of the public and 85% of current Conservative voters back keeping the price cap.
The surge in public support for freezing prices put renewed pressure on the Conservative candidates ahead of a hustings on Tuesday night. Liz Truss has suggested she favours help for only the most vulnerable households – as well as tax cuts in the autumn.
Rishi Sunak has said he would cut VAT on energy bills but has also pledged to set out a more comprehensive package after the price cap announcement on 26 August.
In a hard-hitting attack on Truss’s plans, Sunak’s campaign released an analysis saying a couple both receiving pensions would be more than £2,300 worse off this winter under her proposals, while a household on a median income would lose over £2,100 as a result of higher bills.
Truss “needs to come clean on her cost of living plans so pensioners and hard working families know now if they will lose out”, a spokesperson for Sunak’s campaign said, calling her plan so far “as clear as mud”.
“First she said no handouts, but now she is saying she’ll provide handouts. She pledged tax cuts for everyone, but is now against using ‘blunt instruments’ that benefit ‘high earners’. It’s not good enough to say wait until late September. Families need certainty now.”
The 38 Degrees polling was done after a Guardian op-ed by the former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown, who said the price cap should be frozen and called on the government to enter into negotiations with energy firms to bring down prices by next year.
Brown said that if firms were not able to offer lower prices they should be brought into public ownership temporarily – similar to how failing banks were renationalised during the 2009 banking crisis.
Keir Starmer said he was reticent to back a similar policy, arguing that all public money should be spent on easing economic difficulties for people in need, rather than nationalisation.
Both Starmer and Brown – as well as the Liberal Democrats – have called for an extended windfall tax on energy companies to fund the cost of freezing the cap. The polling found 71% of Conservative voters said a windfall tax on energy companies should be used to fund the extra support measures.
Speaking prior to the hustings event in Perth on Tuesday, Truss said her focus on tax cuts was the best approach to the energy cost crisis, arguing that proposalssuch as those from Labour represented “sticking plasters”.
Truss has previously ruled out a more wide-reaching windfall tax, although Treasury officials have drawn up some options to extend the current tax announced by Sunak as chancellor in May.
Brown said that there should be further support in the package for those already in crisis because of the current rising bills, who would still suffer this winter even with a price freeze.
Of those polled, 50% say more support should be offered to those on lower incomes and 40% say everyone should get extra help. Among Conservative voters, 45% back more support for everyone.
Ellie Gellard, strategic director at 38 Degrees, said: “You don’t often see polling results send a message as stark as this – sent as loudly from the Conservatives’ own voters as the rest of the country. As the leading candidate for PM, Liz Truss is making headlines for her ‘do-nothing’ plan, as the nation she wants to lead faces catastrophe. It’s time she listened to the people she hopes to represent in three weeks’ time.”
The Treasury is finalising a suite of options for the next prime minister and chancellor with varying degrees of intervention – including an extension of the windfall tax that Truss has rejected. It will also present the possibility of doubling discounts on energy bills, something which Truss ally Simon Clarke has said is also unlikely to be adopted.