Comment: Johnson-Osborne spat only the beginning

The battle among the Tory party's elite to replace David Cameron has already begun. Picture: Neil Hanna
The battle among the Tory party's elite to replace David Cameron has already begun. Picture: Neil Hanna
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THOSE looking for evidence of an Old Etonian elite running the country for the benefit of themselves need look no further than the bizarre Tory soap opera that played out over the weekend.

The Boris and George show which appeared in various Tory-leaning newspapers is one of two old Etonians seeking to make sure he is the one best placed to replace another old Etonian, Prime Minister David Cameron.

The story, as far as it is worth retelling, is that the Chancellor George Osborne suggested London Mayor Boris Johnson should run for parliament before the 2015 election to be part of the team and improve the chances of a Tory victory. This led to a certain amount of anger from Team Boris, who saw it as an attempt by Mr Osborne to discredit their man or force him to share in the responsibility for an election defeat.

It had the plot subtlety of an episode of Eastenders but with the upper class as the main characters, and was seen as a naked attempt by the Chancellor to get one over his main rival for the party leadership if a vacancy should arise.

With the referendum underway and Scottish Labour set on its own bloodletting over devolution plans, the machinations of a party with just one MP in Scotland may seem to be a distant matter. But the declaration of open hostilities between the Osborne and Boris camps is one which could yet affect us all unless Scotland votes Yes to independence on 18 September.

Both men want to be the next Tory leader and believe they are the best man for the job. Boris has laid out his credentials by being a media personality and running one of the greatest cities on earth. Meanwhile, despite the 2011 Budget-that-wasn’t-a-Budget fiasco, Mr Osborne likes to be seen as the man who has “saved the economy”.

Crucially he is also behind the appointments and sacking of Tory ministers in the two reshuffles so far in the coalition. Without Mr Osborne’s patronage, a ministerial career will not get far.

While there have been many pretenders to Cameron’s crown – Home Secretary Theresa May, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and Education Secretary Michael Gove – in reality the field is narrowing to two men. But in the end the really interesting thing about this spat is what it says about David Cameron. The fact that manoeuvres have begun to replace him shows that senior Tories believe he is finished.

So despite Angela Merkel’s help last week in renegotiating the UK’s membership of the EU, it seems Mr Cameron may already be looking like the past for the Tories who are seeking a more rightwing economic and socially conservative future.