Tuesday, 31 July 2012

End the speculation: Cameron won't sack Osborne

When the media, old and new, sink their teeth into a story, it’s hard to prize it away. All it takes is a scent, a glimmer of hope that they may be proved right, for momentum to take over. As is the scenario with Chancellor George Osborne. Speculation over his position has been rife since the Budget: the brilliant, shrewd, future leader in waiting, reduced to a laughing stock, in a matter of months. As long as the economy continues to tank, the questions will keep on coming, with the comment pieces piling up.

But, we can all calm down. Because, like the British economy, George Osborne ain’t budging. The ramifications for David Cameron would be enormous. The most important member of the Cabinet after the PM failing to last a full parliament. It just won’t happen. Ironically, on this occasion, Cameron’s judgement – were he to sideline his Chancellor - would probably be hailed rather than derided.
Whilst the country has everything to gain, Cameron has too much to lose. Osborne is a vital ally, a friend, and founding member of the Notting Hill set. Dumping him would provide the right wingers with a martyr. He would quickly become the go-to man for any grievances.  Why? For starters I can’t see him accepting another role in the Cabinet, bar possibly Foreign Secretary. Anything else would be a humiliating step down. Once you’ve been Chancellor, the only way is up, or out.

William Hague is spoken of as a possible successor, but would he really want the job and the microscopic scrutiny that goes with it? For someone of his experience, Foreign Secretary is as good as it gets. He seems to relish his current role. Why trade diplomacy, where many of the big decisions follow an expected path, for the suffocating spotlight that accompanies the top person at the Treasury?
Vince Cable’s name keeps cropping up, but can you imagine the barrage of abuse unleashed by the already gobby Tory backbench? A Lib Dem Chancellor would be enough to see them apoplectic with rage and foaming at the mouth. Vince would be a popular choice amongst the centre-left, his chance to redeem himself, re-unveil his progressive feathers, but he may also pose a threat to his own leader’s position. Cameron seems too close to Clegg to so publically challenge his authority.

All this reminds me of the endless speculation over whether Tony Blair would sack Gordon Brown – something his wife Cherie had urged, if Andrew Rawnsley’s political tome is to be believed - although for very different reasons.
Osborne is Cameron’s economic mouthpiece. They have jointly mapped out our decade of austerity. Ideological certainly binds them together. A permanent dwarfing of the state is their co-authored project.

The Independent’s Steve Richards believes that:
“Osborne [has become] trapped by a narrative that had been adopted for electorally partisan reasons.”

This was a strategy that pinpointed blame on Labour for the state of the economy. Clearing up its mess is going to take a lot longer than two and a half years. We’re in it for the long haul, so the cry goes.
As Richards correctly points out, Osborne is also protected by the coalition agreement. Neither party is prepared to back down now:

“From the beginning, the Liberal Democrats have described the main purpose of the Coalition as "rescuing the economy". As a result it is almost as hard for them to accept that the economic basis of their original partnership is causing more harm than good.
"We have reached the strangest point yet in the Coalition's bizarre life. Its political survival depends on a very big leap away from Plan A – yet its origins make it almost impossible for such a leap to be made.”

And this is why we’re lumbered with him. To give Cameron some credit, he’s been extremely loyal to his team. Enough to make LabourList editor, Mark Ferguson, speak of his ‘begrudging admiration,’ for him. A settled group of ministers is usually preferable to:
The hyperactive reshuffle fever that used to come over Labour periodically during our time in government.”

“Whether it’s loyalty or weakness, on balance it’s a positive thing. Stable, knowledgeable government is always preferable to that of a government that is desperate to show that it is doing “something” (anything).”
The first government reshuffle, expected in the autumn, may be the most anticipated in years, but to turn the conservative maxim on its head, it’ll probably be a case of: ‘if it’s broke, don’t fix it.’

This article was first published by Shifting Grounds on Tuesday 31st July 2012

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