Sajid Javid has issued a stern warning against Britons succumbing to “naked populism”.
The home secretary blasted politicians “with no real purpose – other than just to gather up as many votes as they can”.
Speaking at a Bright Blue reception at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, he urged delegates not to “preach to people’s fears” but instead to appeal to their hopes.
One activist in the room was overheard touting him as a future prime minister as the speech began, amid a flurry of reports senior ministers are on leadership manoeuvres.
“As we develop those policies, listening to Bright Blue and others, taking in all those great ideas and turning them into policy, let’s also not become like other countries,” Mr Javid said.
“Certainly some in Europe and further afield, who have started appealing to naked populism – your raw populism – with no real purpose other than just to gather up as many votes as they can, but preaching to people’s fears.
“Let’s not preach to people’s fears, let’s preach to people’s hopes.”
Asked by Sky News who his message was aimed at, Mr Javid said: “Nothing – it’s aimed at what you’ve seen in Europe.
“It’s about populist parties across Europe – have a look. You know what parties are talking about in Europe.”
It comes after rumours of some cabinet ministers jostling to position themselves at this year’s conference, and senior figures backing Theresa May.
The prime minister has insisted she intends to fight the next general election for the Conservatives, and her speech at this year’s conference is titled “Campaign 2022”.
Party chairman Brandon Lewis was asked whether he supported Theresa May’s bid to run again in four years’ time. He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I hope she will. I think she will.”
Mr Javid was appointed home secretary in April, and quickly disowned the “hostile environment” his two predecessors, Amber Rudd and Theresa May, were criticised for following the Windrush scandal.
He is one of the bookmakers’ favourites to become the next prime minister.