The Conservatives may “kiss goodbye” to hopes of winning the next general election unless they get inflation under control, Rishi Sunak has warned.
Sunak was speaking at a Tory leadership contest in Eastbourne a day after the Bank of England forecast it would peak at 13.3 per cent and the cost of living crisis would extend into the expected 2024 election year.
The former chancellor has repeatedly warned that his leadership rival Liz Truss’s plan for at least £30 billion in immediate tax cuts would fuel inflation and risk prolonging the crisis.
He told conservative activists on Friday that the most important thing was not to “add fuel to the fire and make the situation worse”.
“The first thing we have to do to make sure we can win the election is to have gotten through this inflation problem by then,” Sunak said. “And that is why I am particularly concerned about policies that risk making things worse and lasting longer.
“Because this is a problem that doesn’t just apply to this winter. It’s a problem for next winter too, and beyond, because as the Bank of England said, they’re worried about inflation being embedded.
“Then there is no hope that we will win the next election. Absolutely none. Right? It’s that simple.
“We all heard what they said yesterday, you all saw the numbers.
“And if we don’t get a handle on this and get a handle on it quickly, then we can kiss goodbye to winning the next election. So the first thing we can put ourselves in a position to win is get through inflation and get through quickly that and not make things worse.”
Sunak said that conquering inflation was “the most important issue facing our country at the moment”.
He added: “The warning lights in our economy are flashing red. And the root cause of that is inflation. And yes, it’s primarily driven by international reasons, but not exclusively, and increasingly national.
“So the first thing we have to do, if we’re going to address this, is not to make the situation worse and add fuel to the fire and repeat the mistakes of the past.
“And as you heard from Nigel Lawson – Margaret Thatcher’s chancellor – the other day, I think it is hugely risky to pump £40 or £50bn of borrowed money into an economy which is already seeing an inflationary spiral.
“It’s taking a big gamble with your savings, your pensions and your mortgage rates, and that’s not a chance I’m willing to take.”
Separately, Tory leadership contender Liz Truss vowed to take action against “militant activists” after her speech to the same hustings was interrupted by hecklers.
Five environmental protesters joined an action by the group Green New Deal Rising at the event, rising one by one from the audience to shout out to the incoming prime minister: “Liz Truss, you should be ashamed.”
A live broadcast of the hustings on the Conservative Party website was briefly halted when the protesters were removed from the hall.
As the crowd chanted “Out! Out!”, the Secretary of State stopped her speech and said, “I think we have some infiltrators and I will wait until they are thrown out.”
Resuming her speech, Truss won applause from Tory campaigners by announcing that as Prime Minister she would “never, never, ever allow our democracy to be disrupted by unfair protests”.