Come back George Osborne, all is forgiven. Yes, he may have ramped up the fear factor ahead of the referendum and yes, he may have missed his own targets and tinkered too often with the tax code but after Theresa May's speech yesterday there will be plenty in business who look back with affection on the days of Osborne and his old friend Cameron.
Their metropolitan liberalism (which generated broadly pro-market, pro-business policies) has been replaced by May's Maidenhead managerialism. Whereas the former chancellor spent his final days in office flying around the world promising to “defend free markets and free trade” our new Prime Minister feels distinctly more suburban. Her instincts don't lead her to trust free markets, but to tame them; not to shrink the state, but to harness its power to 'do good'.
As Home Secretary, she clashed furiously with Osborne as he made the case for a more liberal immigration system while she clung to the goal of reducing the figures to the tens of thousands. You can be sure that Osborne wouldn't have allowed a Home Secretary to make a speech suggesting that firms would be required to declare the number of foreigners they employed – yet that's exactly what we got at this week's Tory conference.
We also heard promises to “repair free markets”, mooted proposals for Miliband-style energy price controls, a renewed faith in old-fashioned industrial strategies, pledges to force staff and customers on to company boards and a general sense that government is about to get a lot bigger and much more heavy-handed. May wishes to fix the markets in energy and housing – both of which are broken because of government policies and regulations, not a lack of state activity.
If the PM wants to roll back green-levies and deregulate the planning laws, we'll be the first to support her. However, it doesn't sound as if these are the reforms she has in mind. It's little wonder the Institute of Economic Affairs denounced May's speech as “an alarming attack on free markets” while employers' groups including the IoD, CBI and BCC have all raised the alarm over the coming wave of intervention. By the sound of things, they're right to be worried.