Liz Truss’ emergency tax-cutting budget risks becoming an “electoral suicide note” for the Tory party, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has claimed, as blue-on-blue attacks in the leadership race continued.
The Justice Secretary, who wants Rishi Sunak to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister, claimed Ms Truss’ plan would “do little” for the most vulnerable and could prove “politically fatal”.
It comes as Tory MP Mark Harper tells Sky News a meeting between the two leadership candidates to agree on new cost of living measures would not be possible because of their “fundamental difference of opinion”.
Writing in The Times, Mr Raab said: “If we go to the country in September with an emergency budget that fails to measure up to the task in hand, voters will not forgive us as they see their living standards eroded and the financial security they cherish disappear before their eyes.
“Such a failure will read unmistakably to the public like an electoral suicide note and, as sure as night follows day, see our great party cast into the impotent oblivion of opposition.”
Conservative minister for London Paul Scully, who is supporting Liz Truss in the leadership race, condemned the remarks, telling Sky News: “I don’t think that sort of language of, ‘electoral suicide’, is helpful in any way.”
People ‘tearing their hair out’ at Tory in-fighting
He later told Times Radio that people must be “tearing their hair out” at Tory in-fighting.
When asked about Mr Raab’s comments he said: “Liz is far more bold, ambitious, she’s more optimistic for the economy… The combination of targeted tax cuts and targeted support can help both the short term and grow the economy for the medium-term solutions.”
Her campaign has been forced on the defensive in recent days after the foreign secretary suggested there would be no “handouts” if she won the leadership contest and that her priority was reducing the tax burden.
Her allies have insisted her comments were “misinterpreted” and further direct support to help struggling families has not been ruled out.
Her plan to reverse the national insurance increase, which Mr Sunak brought in as chancellor to boost NHS and social care funding, has been criticised by his allies for disproportionally benefitting high earners.
Conservative former chief whip Mark Harper, who is supporting the former chancellor in the leadership contest, told Sky News he agrees with Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab’s claims.
When pressed if he agreed with the use of language he said: “I think if the government doesn’t help the poorest and most vulnerable people to get through the winter, to pay their energy bills and to put food on the table, then I think that will be electorally very damaging.”
Families ‘don’t know how they will get through winter’
Mr Sunak has signalled his plan would be to extend support packages he introduced during his time in the Treasury in a bid to ease the cost of soaring energy bills. He has also said he would seek to press Whitehall departments to make savings to help fund cost of living support for millions of people during an “extremely tough” winter.
However, poverty campaigners say neither of the plans set out by the leadership contenders go far enough, as calls grow for Mr Sunak and Ms Truss to sit around a table with Boris Johnson and thrash out emergency measures.
The Bank of England has forecast inflation is set to hit 13% while average household energy bills are predicted to reach almost £4,000 this winter.
An analysis carried out by the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows low-income families need £2550 to meet extra costs from the current crisis.
They said that cutting VAT on fuel – as Mr Sunak has promised – would help those who use more energy rather than those who need most help with their bills. Meanwhile suspending green levies on energy bills, as Ms Truss has pledged, only reduces bills by about £150 a year.
The charity is calling for the financial package of support for those on benefits to double and to make debt deduction repayments more affordable to stop people falling further into hardship.
Katie Schmuecker, Principal Policy Advisor at Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “Every day without a concrete plan to address this glaring gap is increasing anxiety for low-income families who do not know how they will get through the winter.
“The public believe tackling this crisis head on is more of a priority than tinkering with tax policy. The scale of the intervention required could have been smaller if the UK’s social security system hadn’t been cut back and degraded for more than a decade, leaving many families exposed to economic shocks.”
Meeting between leadership candidates ‘won’t happen’
It follows calls led by former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown to hold an emergency meeting with his two potential successors and agree fresh measures to help with spiralling energy bills before September – after Downing Street ruled out such a move yesterday.
Despite mounting pressure from business leaders and opposition MPs, Mr Harper said today that “it won’t happen”.
He said the reason was because the two candidates have a “fundamental difference of opinion”, insisting it was “not about ego”.
But Labour’s shadow employment minister Alison McGovern said people could be “forgiven for thinking we have no ministers” as she called for urgent action.
And Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey has accused both Conservative leadership candidates of being in a “parallel universe” as he called on the government to “cancel the October energy price rise”.