by Sir Thomas Crapper
Does David Cameron have the guts to move George Osborne from The Treasury?
He really needs to do it. This is no longer about Osborne’s succession to the Premiership. That ship, surely, has sailed. This is now about Osborne’s failure to be radical enough, while staying in tune with voters. He has a tin ear when it comes to ‘listening’ to the public and understanding what might or might not be considered acceptable.
There has, for instance, been no ‘austerity’ as such. There have, absolutely, been cuts. But borrowing has risen dramatically. If it was wrong for Gordon Brown to borrow recklessly (even before the 2008 crash) then it is wrong for Osborne to continue the trend while subjecting the country to cuts (albeit mostly necessary ones).
But one of the main aims of ‘austerity measures’ is to reduce government debt, and in that Osborne has failed miserably. So austerity, in this case, has been a whole lot of pain for no ultimate reward.
After the climb-down on pension reform, the reversal on PIP (the disability benefit) and last year’s scrapping of tax credit cuts, Osborne – Tory hero, credited with bringing them back into government after 13 years – is seriously damaged goods.
His chances of ascendancy to leadership of the Party (and therefore Prime Minister) must – surely? – be in tatters.
Cameron’s main problem is that he and Osborne been friends and allies for so long that moving Osborne is freighted with enough baggage to sink a ship. But he has to do it.
A lesser problem is: where to put him? When you move a Chancellor (and potential successor as leader) there are only two great Offices of State at your disposal. Moving Theresa May from the Home Office would be massively unpopular. Despite the odd stumble, she is one of this Government’s genuine successes. She is also entitled to believe that she also has a shot at becoming leader.
So Cameron’s only real option is to make Osborne Foreign Secretary. Philip Hammond is considered possibly the most boring minister. He’s done nothing to mark him out as a man who should be left in post. He’s unlikely to be remembered as having even held the office – we barely remember Foreign Secretaries anyway, even the good ones, like Lord Carrington, or David Owen, or Robin Cook (for example).
Finding the job, then, is not the problem. The problem for Cameron is to call his friend into Number 10, sit him down and persuade him it’s time to move. Oh to be a fly on that wall!