David Cameron first launched the phrase in his speech on foreign policy and national security in the annual JP Morgan lecture at the British American Project on 11 September 2006. ‘I am a liberal conservative, rather than a neo-conservative’, he said. Liberal ‘because I support the aim of spreading freedom and democracy, and support humanitarian intervention’. Conservative ‘because I recognise the complexities of human nature, and am sceptical of grand schemes to remake the world’. On his recent visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan, he stuck largely to the same script.
While foreign policy was comparatively low down the agenda at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, shadow foreign secretary William Hague used his speech to refer again to ‘our liberal conservative beliefs’. This, he ventured, was ‘the strength and purpose to keep our people safe today but also with the humility and patience to make them safer tomorrow’
Before Birmingham, in an interview with Fraser Nelson of The Spectator, the shadow schools secretary Michael Gove was characteristically honest about his own position, as an unrepentant neo-conservative. ‘If I say’, “Well actually I prefer to think of myself as a muscular liberal interventionist,” that’s running away from it. My view is: yes, I am. Let’s have a conversation about that’. But he was quick to add that he was not speaking for his leader, whom he saw also saw a ‘liberal conservative’. At this stage, there is no reason for such distinctions to precipitate a serious division in the shadow government. ‘If you look at what he said in the recent speech in Pakistan, or if you look at what he said in the context of Georgia’, Gove continued, ‘then what’s not to like?’
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