Has Kwasi Kwarteng gone too far already? The new Business Secretary has spent the first few days in the job busily playing down the widely-held perception that he is a Right-winger.
He has distanced himself from the more extreme free-marketeer views he espoused in the 2012 pamphlet entitled Britannia Unchained, which outlined his vision for the country.
As a newly elected MP, Kwarteng – along with Liz Truss, Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and Chris Skidmore – denounced the UK's "bloated state, high taxes and excessive regulation", and described British workers as "among the worst idlers in the world".
And, despite being appointed less than a month ago, he has already executed his first U-turn, abandoning a post-Brexit review of workers' rights after he was attacked for wanting to water down protections.
When we meet (virtually, of course), he is adamant that much of the criticism was baseless: "People say we want to abolish workers' rights; nothing could be further from the truth."
For one thing, he argues, any government that chipped away at these protections would be misdiagnosing some of the key fault lines in British society.
"A lot of the Brexit debate centred around low wages," says the 45-year-old MP for Spelthorne in Surrey from a makeshift video conferencing set-up in his new office on Victoria Street in Westminster.
"I remember people coming up to me in my constituency and saying: 'I'm a builder and I haven't had a wage increase for 15 years'. So the idea that we would secure Brexit and then have a race to the bottom [on workers' rights] has always been preposterous to me."
When I ask whether the 48-hour working week, which was rumoured to be the main item in the Government's sights , is therefore here to stay, he replies: "We're not looking to diminish that."
This is no doubt pragmatic. The 48-hour working week is not seen as particularly burdensome by most companies, many of which just ask workers to opt out of the rules if needs be. But it is totemic for some in the Tory party, as it forms a key part of the hated EU working time directive that was, to their minds, forced on the country by Brussels despite fierce opposition from then prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
The sense that Kwarteng – the first black Conservative secretary of state and the latest in a very long line to be educated at Eton and Cambridge – might be over-correcting in playing down his libertarian credentials is further enhanced by the items he says are at the top of his agenda: helping deliver on the UK's commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, the Prime Minister's 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution and the levelling-up agenda .
These are hugely interventionist projects for a Conservative government to be pursuing at a time when the state is already playing a bigger role in our lives than ever before: confining most people to their homes in an attempt to control Covid, cranking up the state machinery to roll out the vaccines and keeping thousands of businesses on life support .
The classicist, historian and linguist has even let it be known that he has read Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century , which argues that capitalism always creates inequality, in the original French.
But with a row brewing in the Tory party ahead of the March Budget about how to sort out the nation's finances and the size of government following the pandemic, Kwarteng places himself firmly in the libertarian camp.
"Let me be very clear: without a thriving private sector we will not be able to afford good public services. Great public services rely on a thriving, dynamic open economy. And I've never really abandoned that [position]. The Chancellor is of the same opinion. We, as a government, are not going to be able to spend our way to prosperity. We have to create a framework where private enterprise can be deployed."
Kwarteng was elected in 2010 but did not enter government until 2018, partly, it has been said, because he didn't get along with the Cameroonian wing of the party.
His criticism of George Osborne's flagship Help to Buy scheme can't have helped.
He famously told the 2019 Tory party conference: "There's nothing [better] to convert someone from being a radical free marketeer to seeing the virtues of government action than making them an energy minister."
But he now says that experience has also reinforced his belief that the main role of government is to harness the power of innovative businesses and private capital.
"This has worked very well in the offshore wind sector," he says. "We've invested about £94bn in that sector since 2010.
"Way more than two thirds of [the investment has come] from the private sector. It isn't the Government that's building offshore wind farms; it's people like Ørsted, Equinor, SSE and ScottishPower. That's the dynamic. We need to set the regulatory framework in which private enterprise and ingenuity can be deployed."
This is, he says, why one of his main priorities is shaking up the audit industry .
Auditors are supposed to review and verify the financial information that companies release. In recent years, much of this work has become concentrated in only a handful of firms, whose relationships with their clients have at times appeared uncomfortably cosy.
For example, a parliamentary report into the collapse of Carillion, the outsourcing company, panned KPMG and suggested the so-called Big Four auditors should be split up to lessen conflicts of interest.
"Free markets have got to be fair markets," says Kwarteng. "The debate around [audit reform] goes to the heart of capitalism. People have got to see that it's fair, that there are rules, and people get punished for disobeying them."
If the new Business Secretary, who spent time working for a variety of banks in the City at the start of his career, is going to harness the power of the private sector, he's also going to have to rebuild some bridges.
The Conservatives were traditionally seen as the party of business but Brexit has tested the old certainties.
The majority of businesses favoured remaining in the European Union and didn't take too kindly to reports in 2018 that Boris Johnson, at the time foreign secretary, had muttered "f— business" in response to their concerns.
Regardless of their politics, many business people had their nerves frayed and patience tested by the long months of uncertainty leading up to the last-minute deal.
Kwarteng is a long-time supporter of Johnson, to whom he is occasionally likened (and famously uttered the same expletive live on University Challenge in 1995 ).
But he believes that the deal provides an opportunity to turn a new page: "Clearly, the spectre of Brexit did strain relations between the Government and elements of the business community. One of my key priorities is to re-engage and reset that relationship.
"For five years, we talked about Brexit as if it was never going to happen, as if it was a terrible thing. It's happening now. We have to focus on taking advantage of Brexit, which is a unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Kwarteng is, however, a little sketchy when asked to give concrete examples of how businesses can do this, looking for inspiration beyond his own department to the deals struck by Truss's Department for International Trade.
More than anything, he appears to be banking on a sense of relief that the UK has not quit the European Union without a deal.
"I think the business community generally appreciates that we've got certainty," he says. "The cooperation agreement is not perfect but it's a very good deal.
"Only last week, I spoke to Nissan and they directly mentioned the deal. A lot of Remainers say: 'Well, if it hadn't been for Brexit, they would have stayed anyway.' I don't think that's true at all.
"These are sophisticated companies that review where they want to invest on a daily basis. And I think the fact that Nissan gave us a vote of confidence last week was hugely significant."
Won't it be hard for the Conservative party to reset its relationship with business when the Prime Minister is saying that there are no non-tariff barriers to trade with the EU at the same time as the DIT is advising companies they may need to form EU-based operations in order to continue trading with Europe?
Kwarteng characterises this as a "leading question" and declines to answer it directly.
"There are teething issues around the borders ," he concedes. "We've been very clear that we're not going to enforce a lot of that in a rigorous way. I'm not saying that everything's been resolved – that would be unrealistic.
"[But] we're constantly looking at the glass being half-empty. And actually it's three quarters full – more than three quarters.
"If you'd said to people two years ago that we would get to where we are now they would have been very happy. And the collective sigh of relief on the deal has been deafening."
Education: classics and history at Trinity College, Cambridge; PhD in economic history from the University of Cambridge
Career: Business Secretary since Jan 8; previously business minister; parliamentary under-secretary in DExEU. Worked as an analyst in financial services before becoming an MP
Big break: elected Conservative MP for Spelthorne in 2010; backed the UK's withdrawal from the EU in the 2016 referendum
Hobbies: history, music and languages. He is the author of several books, including Ghosts of Empire and Thatcher's Trial
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