The BBC’s betting expert has noted that a “huge” inflow of money has catapulted David Cameron from 8-1 to 10-3 (equal second favourite) since his speech of yesterday. Liam Fox (14-1) had to work hard to neutralise ‘the Cameron surge’ and win that essential second-placed spot. His speech began with a joke about how he played tennis with David Cameron and often lost. He didn’t intend to make losing against Mr Cameron a habit, he laughed!
Dr Fox occasionally charmed the audience with his wide smile but this was a serious speech overall – designed to reassure those who MPs who wonder if he is substantial enough to be a potential Prime Minister.
It was a very Eurosceptic speech and he won loud applause for his commitment to take Tory MEPs out of the EPP (although the loudest claps greeted his pledge to fly the Union flag outside of schools). He rejected the ‘union’ destination of ‘ever closer union’ and called for a more decentralised and deregulated EU. He told a moving story about the suffering of the Karen people in Burma and said that Conservatives should never look the other way when human beings were struggling for democracy, human rights or free and fair trade. He was unapologetic about his support for the Iraq war and asked the war’s opponents to explain how the world could possibly be a better, safer place if Saddam had still been in power.
Near the end of his speech Dr Fox emphasised the problems of domestic violence and the inadequate care of people with mental health problems. Both are dimensions of the ‘extra mile compassion’ that has characterised the ‘broken society’ theme of his campaign.
Near the end of his speech he outlined a little of his autobiography but – in what will be interpreted as a dig against David Davis – he said that this race was not about where you came from but where you were going. He concluded by saying that the Conservative Party must be a hopeful party – committed to healing the broken society and restoring national pride.
I am very glad that Liam Fox spotlighted human rights in his speech. I heard him address the subject at a fringe meeting, convened last night by Gary Streeter MP. It was one of the most exciting fringe events I have attended in many years of conference-going.
Dr Fox (pictured at the fringe meeting) promised to put a concern for freedom and human rights at the heart of Tory foreign policy. He spoke movingly about suffering in Burma. He questioned the moral legitimacy of the United Nations and the way that repressive regimes often dominate its proceedings. He spoke with authority about China and the danger posed to its future stability by water shortages and the consequences of its one child policy (often enforced by horrendous sterilisation procedures).
Ben Rogers, a regular contributor to the Platform section of this blog and a human rights campaigner, spoke after Dr Fox. Dictatorships do not make reliable partners – in commerce or politics - Ben argued. He reminded the meeting that our nation is described as The Mother Of The Free in Land Of Hope And Glory. He urged the Conservative Party to build a Britain that nurtures freedom throughout the world for oppressed people.
James Mawdsley, who was imprisoned in Burma for his campaigning, addressed the meeting about North Korea, which he had just visited. He described horrific human rights abuses in that country and moved a number of the audience to tears.
Michael Gove MP, who also spoke at the meeting, said that Tory Governments must never give comfort to authoritarian regimes again. He ridiculed the Tory party’s post-1997 opposition to Labour’s idea of an ethical foreign policy. The Tories need their own (superior) ethical foreign policy, he said, and that should include rejection of ‘my sonofabitch’ realpolitiks. He highlighted Britain’s all-too-close relationship with Saudi Arabia and said that it export of extremist Wahhabi thinking had gone unchallenged for far too long.
Mr Gove paid handsome tribute to Dr Fox for putting idealism back at the heart of Conservative foreign policy. The team that Dr Fox is assembling on human rights – and the agenda that is building – is a huge credit to his time as Shadow Foreign Secretary.