One of my rules for dealing with journalists is that I don’t often call them back unless they leave a message saying what they want to talk about. They’re usually trying to stir things up – e.g. X number of “senior” Labour MPs (is it ever a junior MP?) think that Y should be sacked or Z should be promoted or that heads should roll because of …. you get my drift.

Quite often the calls seem to be from interns or junior researchers, who don’t know anything about the subject and have just been briefed to solicit a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You can spend 10 minutes discussing the nuances (and as a lawyer I am very good at the ‘on the one hand’ and ‘but on the other hand’ line of banter, which I know is not what journalists want).

So with something like the windfall tax you might start off by saying that you quite like the idea, and you certainly hope that the Chancellor is looking at it, although you have concerns about some elements like whether the cost would ultimately end up being passed on to the consumer, but you do think something ought to be done to help people meet their fuel bills, and the energy companies have after all made huge profits, although as a matter of principle you’re not keen on the idea of retrospective taxation…. And then you get asked ‘so can I put you down as a “yes” then?’

If you do go down as a ‘yes’ then you are henceforth referred to as ‘a member of the Government’ despite being a lowly PPS.

Which is my roundabout way of saying that I think it – a windfall tax – is worth looking at, but I’m not fully signed up to the idea. I want to know more, and see numbers and analysis and predictions. I also quite like the idea of making energy companies pay more for permits under the EU carbon trading scheme, although I appreciate that won’t raise as much money. Some might think this stance is a bit of a cop out, but I think it’s important to dig a little deeper before jumping in with both feet… (if that’s not a metaphor that lends itself to talk of ending up totally buried !)

Tom Watson has an interesting take on this actually. I’ve also been called by Compass on a couple of occasions and said something pretty similar to what John Robertson says he said. Despite being pushed fairly hard to lend my name to calls for the tax, I reiterated my line of being ‘interested’ in the idea but not fully convinced. I suspect that was enough to justify my inclusion as one of the 7 unnamed PPSs being cited on Newsnight as secretly supporting it.

* Son Volt, in case you think I’m cheating. And no, I didn’t have to Google it. It’s on my iPod.
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