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26 August

End the Tory leadership race now and fix the energy bills crisis

The Conservatives are fiddling while Rome burns.

By Rachel Wearmouth

The energy price cap has risen by 80 per cent from £1,971 to a staggering £3,549 today. Britain is in a state of panic. The consumer champion Martin Lewis, who arguably has shown more leadership than Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson combined this summer, has warned that more help for the poorest is needed or “people will die this winter”. And without grants, businesses – which have no cap on their energy bills – face bankruptcy.

No cabinet minister was available to answer questions on radio and television this morning because, while the Tory leadership contest continues, Johnson remains in place as a lame duck PM and no one has a mandate to lead. Put simply, no one is in charge in the midst of approaching catastrophe.

This power vacuum has become intolerable – and the Conservative Party should give serious consideration to bringing the contest to a close now.

All polls point to a Truss victory and, though Sunak has cast himself as “the underdog”, the chances of him winning are slim to none. Truss has stubbornly refused to outline what her government will do, with her team saying simply that “Liz would ensure people get the support needed to get through these tough times”. Though reports suggest a bailout is coming, she is ostensibly sticking to limited plans to cut taxes and green levies, which will be a drop in the ocean of financial pain that is set to engulf households from the start of October.

While the pointless race plods on, at hustings after hustings the Foreign Secretary and the former chancellor must continue to pander to the roughly 160,000 Tory members who will decide the country’s next Prime Minister. Never has the party looked more out of step with the country. The pair indulge in culture wars about the “woke left” trying to “cancel our women”, tear chunks out of one another over immigration, debate grammar schools while the attainment gap between north and south at GCSE level widened this week, and sound off about the “Treasury orthodoxy” they both supported in office.

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To add to the impression that the Conservatives are fiddling while Rome burns, Johnson has spent this summer – which has been marked by strikes in multiple industries over pay – on holiday or vainly trying to shore up his legacy over Ukraine.

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At the hustings in Norwich on Thursday night, Truss reiterated her reluctance to “bung more money” to households and said that she would focus on a long-term plan to fix energy supply.

For context, an Ipsos poll found that one in three people had been struggling to afford their bills even before the price cap rise, and 90 per cent were worried about the impact of winter. A group of 17 mental health charities has cautioned that the cost-of-living crisis is damaging people’s wellbeing. The Samaritans took 12,000 calls in July from people concerned about their finances or job.

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has set out £29bn plans which meet the scale of the challenge. The party would freeze energy bills, paid for with a backdated windfall tax.

Bold measures to help people avoid destitution are unavoidable. The Truss campaign privately accepts this. She wrote in today’s Mail that she “will take decisive action on entering No 10 to provide immediate support”. But while the race is ongoing, she is able to keep her plans vague.

When the new leader is announced on 5 September, no one believes it will be Sunak. It is neither responsible nor viable for Truss to continue playing to tax-cut-loving Tory grassroots at the expense of the country. Britain’s next PM should tell the country what her plan is now.

[See also: How can we stop energy companies profiting from the cost-of-living crisis?]