20 Sep 2011

Huhne compares Tory right to US Tea Party

Chris Huhne warns the Tory right not to be like the “madcap” US Tea Party, as a senior Lib Dem tells Channel 4 News differentiating their party from the Tories is a “theme” of the conference.

In his speech to the Liberal Democrat conference Chris Huhne criticised “uncompromising” Conservatives who put the UK’s economic recovery “in peril”.

It is the most outright verbal attack on the Lib Dems’ coalition partners made at the conference in Birmingham.

He said: “This coalition government saved Britain’s credit standing by compromise. The danger if you don’t compromise is now clear from America.

“There the markets looked over the brink when the mad-cap Republican right in Congress would not compromise with the president.

If you fail to compromise… you will put in peril the most crucial achievement of this government. Chris Huhne

“Let that be a warning to the Conservative right here – we need no Tea Party tendency in Britain.

“If you fail to compromise, if you fail to seek the common ground that unites us, if you insist that only you have the answers, if you keep beating the anti-European drum, if you slaver over tax cuts for the rich, then you will put in peril the most crucial achievement of this government.

“You will wreck the nation’s economy and common purpose. We are all in this together and we can’t get out of it alone.”

Get the latest in the Channel 4 News live blog on the Liberal Democrat conference

Deputy Lib Dem leader Simon Hughes told Channel 4 News that it had been a “theme of the conference” for the Liberal Democrats to differentiate themselves from their coalition partners.

He said: “The coalition is secure, we will see through the five years, no-one is saying otherwise now. Now it’s time for us to say what the Lib Dems bring to government and what we have stopped the Tories bringing, and what together we can get done.

“We are confident about setting out our differences.”

Channel 4 News Political Editor Gary Gibbon suggested that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was slightly less comfortable about the jibe, and the Deputy Prime Minister apparently winced when asked about Chris Huhne’s choice of political language.

Mr Clegg said: “We will all choose our own words… I’m not there to vet the individual words of senior Liberal Democrats.”

Mr Huhne also announced measures which will make it easier for consumers to switch energy suppliers, as well as to claim compensation if it is clear energy companies have exploited them for profit. All of the “big six” energy companies have increased their prices in the last month.

It is thought that making it easier to switch suppliers could save households £200 per year, and the government hopes this will also encourage companies to keep their prices in check.

He also unveiled tough new powers for energy watchdog Ofgem that will allow it to stop companies blocking reforms.

Mr Huhne, who was criticised for saying at the weekend that families “do not bother” to hunt for bargains on gas and electricity, said: “We want simpler tariffs, requiring energy companies to tell you whether you could buy more cheaply on another tariff. And you could save real money.

“I want to help households save money, simpler charging, clearer bills, quicker switching and more consumer-friendly firms – co-ops, partnerships, consumer charities – dedicated to doing the shopping around for consumers to make sure that you are always on the best deal, even if you do not have time to check yourself.”