It is a risky business for any serving Cabinet Minister to give a big picture political speech setting out their personal philosophy. It is all too easy for such a gesture to be seen as the start of a leadership bid. This was the fate that befell Theresa May when she made her big speech to the Conservative Home conference 15 months ago.
But last week, George Osborne gave his own credo speech to the Centre for Policy Studies’ Thatcher conference last week. The address, delivered after dinner on the final night of the conference, was the fullest explanation yet of the Chancellor’s political philosophy.
Osborne is far more of a Thatcherite than he is a Conservative and so he was among friends when he made the speech. There was much talk of ‘raising the standard of liberty’. Indeed, he reminded the audience that he liked the concept of liberty so much that he had named his daughter after it.
But reading the transcript of the speech, what struck me most was its emphasis on foreign affairs and the hawkish tone it struck on the subject. Citing Thatcher and Reagan he declared, ‘against those who say militant Islamism is bound to conquer, we say we believe in liberty’.
With the economy in recovery, Osborne is free to spread his political wings a bit. He can be, as he likes to style himself, ‘the Chancellor who takes the broader view’. So, expect to see Osborne emerge as the champion of liberty and openness over the next 18 months. He will be the tribune of sunny-side up Conservatism.