Departing Tory leader Michael Howard said he believes only an economic slump can return the Conservatives to power.
Mr Howard said the party could benefit from an economic slump
Mr Howard said the state of the economy was central to overthrowing Labour at the next general election.
In an interview in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Howard said it was hard for the opposition to win when people were 'relatively content'.
He was speaking ahead of the Tory annual conference, where the leadership contest is expected to step up.
He told the paper: "When most people are relatively content with their economic lot, it is very hard for an opposition to win elections.
"I don't want the economy to go down the pan - I care about the country and I don't want anybody to go through any economic difficulties.
"But in terms of party politics, you have to face the fact that it is difficult - maybe not impossible, but difficult - for an opposition to win an election when most people feel relatively content."
The Conservative's annual conference, taking place next week in Blackpool, will see all five leadership candidates being given the chance to set out their credentials for the post in speeches on the conference floor.
The final decision on who wins the contest will come down to the opinions of the 300,000 grassroots members, meaning candidates will have to work hard to appeal to the activists.
Candidates will also need to gain sufficient support from their fellow MPs to ensure they get through to the final postal ballot.
The five running for leader are shadow home secretary David Davis, former chancellor Kenneth Clarke, shadow foreign secretary Liam Fox, shadow education secretary David Cameron and shadow work and pensions secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind.
Other candidates, possibly including shadow culture secretary Theresa May and Edward Leigh, may decide to enter the contest when nominations officially open on 10 October.