Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Is Osborne After Dave's Job?

Setting up policy groups to devise new approaches is usually a reasonably safe course of action. Neil Kinnock managed in this way to nudge Labour away from its leftist obsessions in the mid eighties. And it seemed David Cameron had done something equally sensible when he set up his six groups. Ken Clarke's on Democracy, was well received but the latest product, on economic competitiveness, from that unreconstructed Thatcherite, John Redwood, has opened up Cameron to attack from the left and centre, the very flanks on which he has to make progress to become electable. Polly Toynbee today indicates his vulnerability:

His 10 chapters, written with the help of the shadow chancellor, George Osborne, form a mighty Redwood manifesto covering virtually everything: here are policies on health and safety (leave it up to employers' responsibility and common sense); pensions (deregulate their accounts); trains (privatise yet more); relaxing planning laws (let developers bribe local Nimby objectors instead of paying planning gain to councils); abandoning data protection; and saving a promised £14bn by slashing and burning regulation. Forget Cameron green: instead, double the mileage of motorways and build more airport runways.

This document will resonate nicely in the editorial offices of the Mail and Telegraph and will gladden the hearts of those who thought the old agenda had been consigned to history. But exhuming aspects of the 'nasty party' will not chime with the floating voters the Tories need to attract in order to win but will merely force the party's ratings even further down- and it has already become clear that Cameron cannot continue his efforts to haul his party into the centre ground, where elections are won, without an opinion poll lead. And with Gordon licking his lips over a possible autumn dash to the polls, this report is not going to help one little bit.

But, Polly hints at something which I have been thinking for a while now: what exactly is George Osborne up to? He has written this report along with Redwood and will be alongside him at the launch(Dave, wisely is staying away). Maybe there is some subtle positioning going on here: Osborne defining himself as the 'genuine Conservative' option should the party, maybe sometime soon, come around to the view that they liked Cameron's Blairite charisma, but could not swallow his Blairite policies. It would be a simply wonderful irony if Osborne turned out to be Gordon to Cameron's Tony.

It's an interesting thought.

Osborne's actually responsible for what I think is one of the most (presumably accidentally) damning quotes about Cameron on record:

"Just creating the positive image of David Cameron as a relaxed family chap who enjoys cycling has taken months of effort. You'd be amazed how much time has to be spent on creating simple images for the media and then the voting public."
Toynbee's hyperbole does not help her case. I have not read Redwood's report, but I doubt that its implementation would mean "abandoning" data protection or "doubling" the motorways. £14 billion is not much in the scheme of things - it's less than half of what Brown has spent since he moved to No 10, according to The Guardian.

The economics of Redwood's report may be good or they may be bad. Nastiness doesn't come in to it.

As for Osborne, I doubt it. If he saw himself on tele now and again, he'd realise that he's not exactly PM material.
I wouldn't believe that actually. Geoffrey Howe, arguably the least charismatic politicians ever, always had prime ministerial ambitions. I'm sure Polly's piece was rhetorically partisan, as she often is, but the thust of what she was saying is still basically correct I'd say.
Yes, quite a damning quote and the article you link is even more so.
As far as I could gather, the thrust of Toynbee's piece was to expose Redwood and Osborne's "real purpose" of raising "the lethal battle flag of a war against Europe for its own sake" and to imply that a £14 billion proposal makes the Tories horribly right-wing and unelectable.

The fact is, it doesn't. The full report isn't published yet, so none of us can say for definite what it might mean for the economy. But as far as I can gather, the main purpose of the report is to reduce the burden of regulation on SMEs - a move which is probably justified. Alleged sideswipes at Europe and hints of big tax cuts on the horizon are Redwood sideshows, and Cameron will ignore them.

For a slightly more measured look at the report, see Vince Cable's piece: http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/vincent_cable/2007/08/redwood_dead_wood.html

[Point about Howe well taken, but ambitions count for nought - he never became PM, and nor will Osborne.]
Without any shadow of a doubt, if Cameron was forced out before the election he would be succeeded by David Davis. The Tories need their own Big Clunking Fist to combat GB. George Osborne by contrast is a Little Grating Squeak.
Can't see Osborne as leadership material. As I understand it, there is already some disquiet that he is underperforming in his current portfolio. If Cameron falls under a bus David Davis is likely, but I wouldn't rule out William Hague (he is popular within the Tory Party).
I agree Hague would be the best person by a mile but he says he has no ambitions to be leader again and seems quite genuine.
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