Osborne emerges… as figurehead of Tory left

George Osborne made a rare foray into public debate today with a defence of gay marriage and abortion which will infuriate Tory backbenchers and make him a figurehead for liberal Conservatives.

The chancellor, who is famous in government for his ability to stay in the shadows while other ministers endure the media spotlight, made the comments in an assessment of Barack Obama's election victory in the US last week.

"It was Mr Obama's 11% lead among women that won it for the president, even though many of those that voted Democrat thought Mr Romney would manage the economy better," he wrote in the Times.

"President Obama's high-profile endorsement of equal marriage for gay couples also enthused younger voters.

"But polls found that a majority of all Americans supported him on the issue and voted for it in all four states that held ballots."

Osborne argued that backing gay marriage was an example of the common sense Conservatism espoused by Margaret Thatcher.

"Successful political parties reflect the modern societies they aspire to lead," he said.

"As Margaret Thatcher said in the first sentence of her introduction to the 1979 Conservative election manifesto: 'The heart of politics is not political theory, it is people and how they want to live their lives'."

Osborne said he was "proud" to be in a government reforming the rules around marriage and insisted a "clear majority" supported the plans.

He also said he did not support any change in the law on terminations, despite many of his frontbench colleagues wanting a reduction in the time limit to bring the UK more in line with Europe.

The chancellor's attempt to tie the gay marriage issue with Obama's victory reveals the Tories' continued nervousness over how events across the Atlantic reflect on their chances of winning in 2015.

While an incumbent victory under tough economic conditions comforted many Conservatives, others noted that the party could have the same problems with minorities, women and young people as Mitt Romney's Republicans had.

The result has put a spring in the step of those trying to limit the influence of right-wing backbench Tories as they argue the party will be unable to appeal to the centre ground if it gives in to a more right-wing agenda.

Many Tory backbenchers are uncomfortable with the plans for gay marriage and report getting more mail against the idea than for it, despite polls showing broad support.