Cabinet minister Hilary Benn enraged car drivers yesterday by claiming the rising cost of motoring is a good thing.
The rocketing cost of fuel and road tax was an "incentive" for drivers to make fewer journeys, said Benn.
The environment secretary admitted it was Government policy to provide "encouragement" for drivers to use their cars less. He told the BBC's Politics Show that high prices were "a fact of life", essential to a low carbon future.
“When one looks at the price of petrol and diesel, well that ... is acting as an incentive to everyone, to try and reduce use of fuel and reduce emissions”, said the minister.
Benn also launched a robust defence of the Government's controversial plans to raise road tax, insisting it was right for the proposed 2010 tax hikes to apply to second-hand vehicles.
Last week the chancellor, Alistair Darling, said that he would look closely again at the road tax proposals, in the face of a backbench rebellion over the issue.
Downing Street will be unhappy with Benn's comments. The PM's press machine has been keen to emphasise its 'on the voters side' in the face of increasing concern about the rising cost of living. Prime minister Gordon Brown is said to be so concerned about voter unrest that he plans to cancel a 2p rise in fuel duty in October.
But angry motoring groups today warned that millions of families couldn't afford to change their car in the face of the retrospective road tax. They accused Benn of 'rejoicing in drivers' despair'.