Liz Truss rejects energy bill help as ‘Gordon Brown economics’

Liz Truss has said she rejects the “Gordon Brown economics” of helping people directly with bills as her rival, Rishi Sunak, warned the British people “will not forgive us” if vulnerable households do not get extra help this winter.

Jessica Elgot 

At the latest Conservative hustings, the former chancellor said he would not be prepared to spend sums similar to the help offered earlier this year, and that support should be more targeted. He said: “I don’t think that will be necessary because what we are talking about now … is the extra increase on top of what we thought.

“It’s right that we target that on the people who most need our help.”

He also admitted that despite his 5p cut to fuel duty, people were “not feeling it at the pumps” and said further help was going to be needed for the most vulnerable.

Speaking at the hustings in Darlington, which was dominated by questions on rising energy bills, Truss said she did not believe in using further taxation to boost government help. “The first thing we should do as Conservatives is help people have more of their own money. What I don’t support is taking money off people in tax and then giving it back to them in handouts. That to me is Gordon Brown economics.”

Truss said that the national insurance rise was her biggest regret in government. “I do hugely regret we went ahead with the national insurance rise. It was against the manifesto promise and I spoke out against it at the time.”

The foreign secretary declined again to say if she would give any further help directly with energy bills – but tempered that by saying she would not commit details of the next budget this early. “There’s [an idea that there’s a] fixed pie, we have to share out the pie and we have to give out the money and hand out.

“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.”

Sunak’s campaign for leadership, which has been trailing Truss’s in the polls for the last few weeks, was dealt a further blow last night when Chris Skidmore became the first Tory MP to switch his support from the former chancellor to Truss.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the MP for Kingswood said the “status quo cannot be an option”. The former universities minister added: “Over the past few weeks, I have grown increasingly concerned by his campaign’s consistently changing position, especially on the economy, to chase votes.”

On Tuesday night Sunak said Truss’s plans would not help swathes of the population and said whoever was prime minister should not rule out direct support. Truss has said she would emphasis tax cuts rather than committing to giving extra direct help with energy bills.

“If you’re a pensioner, if you’re on the national living wage, tax cuts are worth zero,” Sunak said. “That’s not a policy to help people get through the winter and I think it’s wrong to rule out help directly because we as a Conservative government have an obligation to help those who are most vulnerable.

“If we don’t do that, not only will people suffer but we will get absolutely hammered when it comes to the next election. The British people will not forgive us for not doing that.”

At the first hustings to take place in the “red wall”, one of the most significant moments of the evening came when about 40% of those present raised their hands when asked who was still undecided – a far greater number than polls have suggested. By the end of the debate, however, when the question was asked again by the host, TalkTV presenter Tom Newton Dunn, that number had fallen to 10% of the audience.

Truss said she would take more seats in the red wall as prime minister, rather than just defending seats won in 2019. “As Blair himself would say, things can only get better. If you select me to be your prime minister, I will work to take new seats in the north-east – Wansbeck, I will work to take Sunderland, and I will work to win big. And I know we can do it.”

In the audience at the Darlington Hippodrome, there were some murmurings of discontent from the crowd of Tory members. One of the biggest cheers came for Boris Johnson when he appeared on the opening video montage and one audience member shouted: “Bring him back.”

At one stage, when the Tory chair, Andrew Stephenson, said the election campaign would take place over the next two years, another member groaned loudly: “Who says?”