It was not a windfall tax but an “energy profits levy”, according to Rishi Sunak. Perhaps the chancellor’s choice of words was to avoid the inevitable suggestion that his government had poached the policy from Labour.
The opposition had been calling for a “windfall tax” for months as inflation spiralled to a 40-year high of 9%, regulators warned of huge energy bill rises and Boris Johnson attempted to weather out the Partygate scandal.
Here are some examples of when Conservative governments have borrowed from their challengers on the opposite benches.
The Labour party first called for a windfall tax on oil and gas producers nearly five months ago. The opposition forced a binding vote in the House of Commons on the proposal, but the Conservatives voted it down. It was defeated by 310 votes to 248. Sunak announced the tax on Thursday.
Theresa May promised in her 2017 manifesto to introduce a cap on energy prices, which came into effect on 1 January 2019. The policy was similar, though not identical, to proposals first put forward by Ed Miliband in his 2015 general election run. At the time, the then prime minister, David Cameron, said the proposal was evidence Miliband wanted to live in a “Marxist universe”.
The Department for Transport under a Labour government proposed the high-speed rail link, but the mantle was taken up by the Conservatives when Labour lost power in 2010. When Johnson told parliament in 2020 that the infrastructure project would go ahead, the then opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, responded: “Once again, we see the government taking its ideas from the Labour party.”
The concept of nationalisation is usually anathema to Conservatives but that has not stopped the party pulling some services back into public ownership. The government renationalised what was broadly known as the Northern Rail service, which had been run by Arriva Rail North, in 2020. It also announced plans the same year to renationalise the probation service – the management of criminal offenders in the community. Corbyn’s Labour opposition had called for both actions to be taken.
George Osborne was accused of being a “magpie chancellor” when he announced plans for a National infrastructure commission in 2015. Miliband had proposed the idea a year before with the aim of ending a culture of “chronic short-termism”. Inaugurated in 2015, one of its main tasks is to undertake a national infrastructure assessment during each parliament.