Osborne issues coded attack on Cable

By Ian Dunt

George Osborne pleased his Conservative audience today with a coded attack on business secretary Vince Cable.

The chancellor reminded his audience that the Liberals of the 19th century failed to support Conservative attempts to protect chimney sweeps – a barely concealed reference to Mr Cable's description of right-wing Tories as "descendants of those who sent children up chimneys".

The comment was just the most obvious part of a speech which will have irritated many Liberal Democrats, as the chancellor took a tough stance against several of their key policy positions.

Importantly, Mr Osborne told the conference that Britain would not cut its carbon emissions any faster than the rest of the EU.

The chancellor also took aim at the eurozone, saying: "For generations to come, people will say 'thank God we didn't join the euro'."

The unapologetically critical approach taken to sensitive Liberal Democrat areas will be interpreted as a return of fire from Mr Osborne after a Lib Dem conference in which senior figures were quick to distance themselves from their Conservative colleagues.

It contrasts sharply with the approach taken by foreign secretary William Hague yesterday, when he praised Mr Clegg for acting in the national interest.

In other passages, the chancellor announced a fee he would impose on workers trying to take their employer to tribunal which can only be returned if they win.

Taken with a pledge to double the time to two years before an employee can launch an unfair dismissal claim, Mr Osborne claimed he was "ending the one way bet against small businesses".

The chancellor was careful to issue tough warnings to the well-off as well, repeating is mantra that "we’re all in this together".

In a passage on tax evasion, the chancellor said: "We will find you. We will find your money. The days of getting away with it are over."

The speech was well received in the hall, with Mr Osborne adopting a more informal conversational style to his previous outings.

Although plans to maintain the freeze on council tax and invest in mobile phone and science projects were widely trailed in the media, the address did not contain any of the moments which earned the chancellor a reputation for game-changing speeches in opposition, most famously for his pledge to raise the bar on inheritance tax.