I didn’t think this would be a post I’d ever write. Anyone who’s followed my posts over the last three years will know I’m not exactly George Osborne’s biggest fan. I felt he turned from being a huge asset to the Conservatives in the opposition years into a Chancellor who cynically viewed his voters and supporters as mere chesspieces – only worthy of narrow tactical calculations that might advance his career – and his fellow MPs as either his vassals or his enemies. Unfortunately for him, too many of his colleagues eventually picked up on it and his conduct during the EU referendum sealed his fate. So I think it was right that he left Government.
Nevertheless Osborne is clearly a very intelligent and clever man: he understands strategy and, when he was Chancellor, I always had a sense the Conservatives had a strategic plan, even if it wasn’t one I agreed with. So, in terms of raw ability alone, in the medium-long term it is hard to conclude that the Conservative frontbench team isn’t weaker without him.
I am now reassessing my previous views and wondering if he could undergo the greatest political rehabilitation since Richard Nixon.
Two things have caused me to change my mind since:
(1) Theresa May. She works hard and likes to personally reflect on difficult decisions for a long time, and to do so in comparative silence – as she did with her decisions on Brexit and Gary McKinnon whilst still as Home Secretary – but being PM is different. You can’t just convince yourself and then issue your orders, as you might within a major Government department. You have to be flexible and quick on your feet, and this is clearly not how she operates. Also, you just don’t have the time: you need someone else to help you stitch your approach to Government all together and do some of the detailed heavy thinking for you. And there’s a huge amount of that to do in the next 3 ½ years.
Theresa May is badly in need of a master strategist
(2) David Cameron. George Osborne was the loyalist of allies. But, whilst Cameron still remained in parliament, I think it was very difficult for him to do anything other than honour his whole legacy. Now David Cameron is leaving, and George Osborne has decided to stay, he has the luxury to reassess. That opens up opportunities for him. However, in order to stage a comeback, he would have to show he’s changed his tune: that he now fully respects all Conservative party members, voters and colleagues and that it’s not his career but the future success of his country that now matters most to him.
Crucially, George Osborne would have to be committed to making Brexit work
The challenge of successfully negotiating a good Brexit deal for the UK is going to be huge. The EU is increasingly firming up and hardening its negotiating position and we need someone who thinks several steps ahead, can anticipate outcomes, moves, and countermoves, and react very quickly. And that person has to be joining up all the dots and plugged straight into the Prime Minister. She’s the one who’ll be going into the negotiating chamber.
Personally, I would sleep much more soundly in my bed at night if I knew George Osborne (having atoned for his sins) was slaving away at it.
Is this fanciful?
In my view, no. If Lord Mandelson and David Davis can return from the political wilderness, then so can George Osborne. He is just too big a talent to remain on the backbenches forever. My view is that it’s a question of when, not if.
I’d be betting on him returning to Cabinet in 2017 if odds were available, possibly as Lord President of the Council and First Secretary of State. However, in the absence of this, I’ve sought value elsewhere.
I was attracted by the 200/1 on George Osborne being PM after the next election with SkyBet. This seems much better to me than the odds on him being next Conservative leader.
My logic for this is that if, for whatever reason, he does return to cabinet, and rehabilitates his reputation, then his odds will move in. If Theresa May does fail, for either political or health reasons, in the next few years then – if he is truly altruistic about it, and he’d have to be – then he might then be in a position to humbly take over, even before GE2020.
And I’d struggle to see a “new” George Osborne losing to Corbyn.
Over to you, George.