Osborne doesn’t need to spend more time in the Treasury
June 5, 2012
Tom Bailey (@baileys72)
Tim Montgomerie recently argued that George Osborne should restrict his role to being Chancellor, rather than also acting as ‘chief election strategist and general busybody across government’, so that he can get a grip on the economy. I’d argue that he should be sacked from both roles rather than restricting his duties to the Treasury. Of course, it is unsurprising to read a left-wing blogger demand that a Conservative chancellor be sacked but I believe many of the coalition’s problems, both political and economic, spring from him. However unrealistic it is, I think there are various reasons why the Conservatives’ long-term prospects would be best served by Cameron ditching his part-time Chancellor.
Firstly, Osborne has not demonstrated any evidence of economic understanding ahead of the crash nor had any success since taking office. In 2006 he described Ireland ‘as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking’ before in 2007 pledging to match Labour’s spending plans. Given the coalition’s rhetoric against state spending and excessive debt, this seems extremely hypocritical. Since 2010, there has been an economic failure as result of the economic strategy that he put in place. His 2010 Mais Lecture provided the underpinning for the austerity strategy which has helped drive us into a double dip recession. It is hard to see how Cameron could ditch his failing policies without getting rid of the architect.
Secondarily, his reputation as a political master is a result of spin rather than substance. I rarely agree with a Tory MP but this statement rings largely true: ‘His reputation as a political strategist is a huge fallacy. This is the man who stopped us winning an outright victory at the last Election against one of the most unpopular Labour governments of all time.’ If he did not stop the Tories winning an outright victory he evidently failed to ensure a Conservative majority despite the deep recession, two unpopular wars, and all the other problems that were plaguing the last Labour government by May 2010. The idea that he is vital to any political success for the Conservatives seems especially laughable given his recent performance on the omnishambles budget. Cutting taxes for the richest whilst raising them on grannies hardly suggests a political genius. The term ‘submarine’ has been used in a complementary manner to describe his approach to public contact. Recently, however, he has seemed more like an enormous lead weight tied to the ankle of the coalition, dragging it towards its death. Given his abysmal poll ratings (a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times found only 18% think Osborne is doing a good job while 58% think he is doing a bad job), Cameron would probably be supported by the public for sacking Osborne whose poll ratings look like Ed Miliband’s at their nadir. Cameron said that the government took courage to concede that it was “ploughing into the brick wall” on policies from the budget and to do a u-turn. Overall, as his budget somehow managed to offend almost everyone, would anyone in the Conservative party really miss George Osborne if Cameron had the courage to sack him?
Given his combined political and economic failings, sacking Osborne would send out a strong message against certain beliefs of the electorate. His continued presence adds support to the sense that this is a government of chums. That both Cameron and Osborne feature in those Bullingdon Club photos and that they are old pals from CCHQ add to the image of the Tories as rich, born to rule toffs which really does not support a ‘we’re all in it together’ message. Sacking Osborne would be bold, ruthless, and smash the perception that George Osborne could get everything wrong and still remain chancellor until the 2015 general election. Overall, the problem with Osborne is not that he does not do enough work as claimed by the anonymous Tory backbencher (complaining Osborne ‘just doesn’t do the work’). It is his austerity driven economic strategy which is the principal problem and Osborne himself, not his dual role, which has caused the coalitions’ present political and economic downturn. Given Cameron’s closeness to Osborne, my advice will likely go unheeded but I do believe that the two Eds would be happier to face Osborne in 2015 than Redwood or Gove as Chancellor. As it is, with Osborne remaining in charge of a failing economic strategy, I can’t see how the economy or the coalition’s political fortunes will recover, irrespective of the number of hours he spends in the Treasury.