As Liam Fox addressed a packed Carlton Club fringe this evening on a mezzanine floor in the ICC in Birmingham, a round of loud singing broke out on the floor below. The Prime Minister had appeared at another reception, and guests were cheerily singing ‘happy birthday’ to him. As the PM celebrated his birthday, his former defence secretary was dispensing advice just a few metres above his head on what the Conservative promise on Europe should be in 2015.

‘What I want is to see us keeping faith with the British people and I want to see us having a slogan at the next election which says ‘Back to a Common Market’, back to an economic and trading relationship with Europe that parks all the political interference in the running of our economy, our workplace, our legal system and all the other things that we don’t like.’

Fox’s delivery was impressive and authoritative, statesman-like. He is clearly keen to forge a role for himself as a serious senior party figure shaping the debate from the backbenches while possessing a strong knowledge of the front bench. But what really struck me was how he managed to respectfully deflect two very passionate questions from anti-gay marriage campaigners who were very keen for him to promise that he would do everything he could to prevent the Prime Minister praising equal marriage in his speech tomorrow. Fox’s response was that he doesn’t actually hold a view on the issue either way, but that he feels that too often political debate is shaped by what those in power want to talk about rather than what voters actually want to discuss. He also asked for a more respectful tone of debate on the issue from both sides. But it’s interesting that he’s drawing a distinction between the actual principle of the policy and the reason it has been brought up

Tags: Conservative conference 2012, Conservatives, Gay Marriage, Liam Fox, UK politics