David Maddox: The prospect of future promotion now just doesn’t add up for this troubled Chancellor
THE fall from grace of the Chancellor George Osborne has been spectacular even by the standards of Westminster, where many a career has floundered.
Before the Budget, when there was talk of who would replace David Cameron as Tory leader, it was assumed that Osborne was a short nose ahead of London Mayor Boris Johnson. But all that has changed now and the discussion instead is on whether he will stay at No 11 or get shuffled off to another ministerial post.
Last week this writer attended a party held by the PR agency which advises many Tory backbenchers and represents many of the right-wing organisations in the UK. On previous occasions the name of Osborne has attracted strong admiration at such gatherings, but last week he was the butt of most of the jokes.
One MP asked: “Name the chancellor who famously coveted his boss’s job, thought he was a great strategist, but wasn’t, was worse at presentation than his leader and whenever there was trouble he was nowhere to be seen?”
And to guffaws he went on: “I know you all think it’s George Osborne, but actually I meant Gordon Brown.”
The idea that Mr Osborne is the “heir to Brown” is about as damaging as it gets in Tory circles. The reason he has earned this tag centres on the Budget.
Not only was it extremely badly briefed, it unravelled with astonishing speed and has been responsible for U-turns on fuel duty, charity tax, caravan tax and the infamous pastie tax.
Never before has a Finance Bill in effect been a consultation. Many of the measures, including the as yet unchanged “granny tax”, hit Tory voters – and all to pay for a tax cut for those earning £150,000 a year or more.
But to compound his sins, when he made his U-turn on fuel duty he forgot to mention it to his cabinet colleagues and then sent his most junior and inexperienced minister Chloe Smith to be grilled by Jeremy Paxman instead of facing the flak himself.
Poor Ms Smith is now a Youtube hit and the condemnation of Mr Osborne’s cowardice has for the first time ever given common ground to the right-wing Tory MP Nadine Dorries and Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman.
There is great unhappiness among Tory MPs that Labour shadow chancellor Ed Ball now looks competent.
As if that was not enough, Mr Osborne is blamed for the thrashing in the local elections last May. His “strategic” role has earned him another title from Labour leader Ed Miliband, “the part-time Chancellor”.
The money is now on him swapping with Foreign Secretary William Hague after the Olympics.
The question for Mr Cameron now, is whether it is more damaging to effectively look as though he is admitting failure on economic policy by moving his chancellor, as Harold Wilson did in 1967, or keeping faith with a man who seems to have lost the confidence of all around him.
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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