John Major provides succour to Miliband with demand for windfall tax on energy companies

John Major demanded a windfall tax on energy companies today, in a brazen move which will win him few friends in the Tory party.

The former Conservative prime minister sounded as if he was reading from the Labour hymn sheet during a press gallery lunch in which he said energy prices were "unacceptable" and that the government "will have to intervene" to help people in fuel poverty.

He proposed an "emergency excess profits" tax on energy firms.

While stopping well short of backing Ed Miliband's plans for a freeze on energy prices, the intervention by Major was rhetorically much closer in line with the position of the Labour leader than David Cameron.

In a speech which was praised by many of the journalists listening to it, Major berated the lack of attention the political class had paid to the "silent have-nots" and "lace curtain poverty".

He also raised worries about plans by Iain Duncan Smith to reform welfare, saying it would only work if he listened to people other than "bean counters" and his cheerleaders.

"Unless Iain Duncan Smith is very lucky, which he may not be, or a genius, which is unproven, he may get some of it wrong," he said.

Commenting on his own comment in power that his Cabinet critics were "bastards", he said: "Calling my colleagues bastards was absolutely unforgivable and my only excuse is it was true."

He also warned the Tory party not to "navel gaze" on their pet issues, saying the public were not interested in "ideology and Europe".

He added: "The threat of a federal Europe is as dead as Jacob Marley."

He said neither Labour nor the Tories could "claim to be national parties".

But the former prime minister did some damage to Labour too, not least when he mistakenly called Ed Miliband by the name of his older brother.

He also accused New Labour of wasting its time and the nation's finances in office, saying: "Never was so much spent to achieve so little."

Noticing Labour MP Nick Brown in the audience, he commented: "It is good to see you. I thought you were dead."