By Tim Montgomerie
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The Chancellor George Osborne has just spoken at the annual business lunch of Conservative Friends of Israel. The event was held at the Westminster hotel at which Osborne, Cameron and other senior Tory staff stayed during the General Election. Mr Osborne began by saying it was his first time back since the day after the inconclusive result when "we decided to do whatever it took to get us into government" and that meant forming a coalition government.
Interviewed by Daniel Finkelstein of The Times Mr Osborne said…
- He was not a neocon because that term, in its strictest sense, meant someone who had travelled from the Left and he hadn't. He did, nonetheless, believethat a robust defence of Britain's interests abroad included a belief in the extension of freedom and democracy and in Libya the Coalition had put that belief into practice. He said he was a believer in idealistic aims pursued with realistic means and Libya typified this.
- He said he was upbeat about the Arab Spring and that much of the caution came from foreign policy establishments who were always nervous of change and preferred the familarity of existing if imperfect relationships to any kind of change.
- Israel was right to identify a nuclear Iran as one of the greatest threats to peace in world. He said the international community should use all tools at its disposal to stop Tehran acquiring a nuclear weapon.
- On the recent outcome of EU talks he said that the PM had done what he said he would do. He had told the Commons and The Times that he would sign a Treaty if it included safeguards for ALL member states that protected the single market and financial services in particular. There is surprise that a PM has done what he said he would do and not sign a Treaty that didn't contain those safeguards.
- He laughed at FT columnist Martin Wolf's attack on his fiscal policies. It's easier to sell your newspaper column than sell gilts, Osborne joked, and it was his job to sell gilts.
- On economic policy he said the deficit was coming down and he suspected that at the next election a central issue would be: Do you want to put Labour back in charge of your money? The current leadership of the Labour Party, he said, were deeply implicated in the economic problems this government has set out to resolve.
- The parliamentary Labour Party had chosen the right Miliband as Labour leader, the unions had installed the wrong one.
- He brushed aside a question as to whether he saw himself as a future Prime Minister. I see myself as Chancellor for many many years to come, Osborne said.