The Chancellor, Downgraded
George Osborne ceased to enjoy a reputation as a master strategist some time ago. Indeed, it may have lasted only a few days after his promise of a cut in inheritance tax at the Conservative Party conference in 2007, which, together with David Cameron’s hour-long speech delivered from a text engraved on the inside of his eyeballs, forced Gordon Brown to abandon the plan for an early election.
That apart, Osborne’s skill at the game of politics has always seemed rather elusive, and his rise to eminence something of a mystery. He has a quick mind and is engaging company; the main cause of his promotion seems to have been how useful Tory party leaders have found him in preparing for Prime Minister’s Questions.
I have not always been impressed by his handiwork. According to Janan Ganesh’s George Osborne, The Austerity Chancellor, he was responsible for Michael Howard’s response to Tony Blair in December 2003:*
This grammar school boy is not going to take any lessons from that public school boy on the importance of children from less privileged backgrounds gaining access to university.
It still annoys me: people should be held to account for decisions they make themselves as adults, not for those made by their parents. Howard, who sent his son to Eton, had no right to lecture Blair, who sent his children to state schools. Smart-alec politics at its worst.
Now we have confirmation that Osborne cannot see even one move ahead in the chess game of politics. Surely anyone who prides themselves on their art could see that the question to ask, if you claim that the UK’s triple-A rating is the test of the Government’s credibility, is: What if the UK were to be downgraded?
A similar question might have occurred when ministers started, about a year ago, claiming to have cut the deficit by a quarter: What if, a year later, they have still cut the deficit by only a quarter, or it starts rising again? (Mind you, a bit harder to see what else they could have done, but perhaps they should shut up about it now.)
This is, of course, yet another way in which Osborne resembles Gordon Brown. Jonathan Powell, The New Machiavelli, p138:
The interesting thing about the three original figures of the New Labour troika is that their skills were almost the polar opposite of their public caricatures. Gordon wasn’t a long-term thinker at all, but he was a brilliant day-to-day tactician, concentrating on how to turn each day’s media battle to the party’s advantage. Peter wasn’t primarily a spin doctor but rather a long-term strategist who could translate our vision into the kinds of practical steps that delivered successful campaigns. And Tony was the one with the vision of where he wanted to take the party and the country, and whose instincts told him where public opinion was now and where it would be five years hence.
*Some other classics collected on that Telegraph video, by the way, including Gordon Brown’s “we not only saved the world”…Tagged in: george osborne
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