Chancellor Rishi Sunak paid due lip-service to the leadership of Boris Johnson today but his brief Conference performance will have done no harm to any ambitions he has of filling his shoes one day.
He may have only spoken for 10 minutes or so, but he made the most of it.
What we got from Sunak was classic fiscally prudent, pro-business Conservatism, of the kind too little seen from his neighbour in Downing Street and his once-infamous “f**k business” sentiment. The annual party bash is virtual this year, but you could almost imagine the purrs of approval from delegates across the hall had they been present.
The stress on the “free market economy”, creating opportunities, entrepreneurship and in particular the name-checking of the experience of several small businesses during the pandemic was testament to his presentational skills.
Pulling off the demeanour of a fiscal hawk when he will be presiding over a record deficit this year is also no mean feat.
But the Chancellor managed it, talking of the party’s “sacred responsibility to future generations to leave the public finances strong”.
There was a hint of the strictures to come however when he stressed that the Government “will always balance the books”, even though that day is still a long way off for now.
But Sunak also sought to reaffirm Conservative scripture and addressed directly the irony that less than a year after hammering a hard-left Labour party at the ballot box for its spendthrift ways, the Government is spending at levels barely seen outside a war.
He warned: “If instead we argue there is no limit on what we can spend, that we can simply borrow our way out of any hole, what is the point in us?”
“Hard choices” are everywhere as the Chancellor acknowledged; the going is about to get a lot tougher for him, and the wider economy. The full extent of the pain will unfold in the months to come.
But here Sunak soared rhetorically. “Even if this moment is more difficult than any you have ever faced, even if it feels like there is no hope, I am telling you that there is, and that the overwhelming might of the British state will be placed at your service.”
He admits he can’t save every job, but that sentence – addressed to every worried worker in the country – smacked of real leadership.