THE Conservative party will be “hammered” by voters at the next general election if they fail to support the vulnerable with the cost of living this winter and focus on “massive tax cuts for very wealthy people” instead, Rishi Sunak has warned.
In a brutal swipe at his rival in the Tory leadership race, the former Chancellor said Liz Truss’s tax plans would be worth “about a quid a week” or nothing to the poorest in society.
Speaking to Tory members in the red wall seat of Darlington on a day when analysts predicted average domestic energy bills could rise from £1,900 now to £4,400 next April, Mr Sunak said he was prepared to give more direct government support to those in need.
Suggesting Ms Truss’s plans for £30billion of unfunded tax cuts would cause revulsion among voters, he said: “Our support should be targeted, not on massive tax cuts for very wealthy people, it should be targeted on helping the people who most need it.
“And if we don’t do that, I can tell you not only will millions of people suffer, we will get absolutely hammered when it comes to an election.
“The British people will not forgive us for not doing that.”
He said it was “wrong” that Ms Truss “has ruled out direct support to families”, a reference to her weekend attack on “handouts” to help with the cost of living crisis.
Mr Sunak also said he was willing to meet Ms Truss and outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to discuss possible responses to the crisis in advance of the leadership race being declared on September 5.
However Ms Truss suggested the idea – proposed by CBI director Tony Danke and former PM Gordon Brown – was a “kangaroo committee” and “bizarre”.
She said it would be “constitutionally undesirable” to overrule the current Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi with a “made up committee”.
The Foreign Secretary also appeared to double down on her tax cuts plan, saying it remained her priority and she was “philosophically” opposed to taking money away from people in tax and returning it to them in handouts, calling it “Gordon Brown economics”.
She said she believed the tax cuts would lead to growth, and likened the economy to a pie.
“If there’s a fixed pie, we have to share out the pie and we have to give out the money.
“My view is that we can grow the pie, and having lower taxes actually helps us generate more income into the economy so there is more money to go around.
“What I fundamentally don’t agree with is putting up taxes and then giving out benefits. I think that is the wrong approach.”
However she refused to rule out giving government money to the poorest if the situation demanded it, saying she could not prejudge an emergency budget.
Mr Sunak said he would serve in Ms Truss’s cabinet, no matter the role, while Ms Truss was more circumspect, saying she would serve the country.
In a quickfire Q&A, Mr Sunak said Boris Johnson’s downfall was his own fault rather than someone else’s and denied he had “wielded the dagger” when the idea was put to him by an angry member of the audience.
Asked who was to blame for Mr Johnson’s downfall, Ms Truss agreed with shouts from the audience that it was the fault of the media, and made repeated other jibes at the media.
It led to a frosty exchange at the end of the hustings between her and the host, the journalist and broadcaster Tom Newton Dunn, which was accidentally caught on microphone.
Kissing him goodbye, Ms Truss was overhead saying: “I’m sorry I was mean about the media, Tom.”
Evidently unimpressed, he replied: “It’s cheap – and you know it.”
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