There was an intriguing column in The Daily Telegraph recently by its finest ex-writer, Peter Oborne speculating that George Osborne had accepted that he would never be Tory leader, and had decided that come the next contest, he would vote for Boris Johnson.
If that be the case, the Chancellor really should watch the BBC’s adaptation of Wolf Hall, and study how skilfully Thomas Cromwell places himself in the shadow of Henry VIII, despite being so much cleverer than the King, and what happens when he is deemed to have forgotten himself.
There was no deference in Osborne’s manner as he appeared in public alongside London’s Mayor today. For beginners, Osborne is by a couple of inches the taller, as well as having the superior manner of a Voldemort, which makes it appear he is literally and metaphorically looking down upon his colleague.
The Chancellor began his talk by describing the bad advice he had received and rejected from Treasury officials. Osborne said he had been advised to scrap the proposed £50m extension to Tate Modern, the building in which this event was staged, and the Francis Crick Institute for biomedical research, and Crossrail, but he had decided that depriving London of prestigious capital projects would be too “easy”. He preferred the “tough decisions” like cutting benefits.
The inference was that London owes the good things that have come to it during the Johnson mayoralty to the generosity of the Chancellor. And there was a promise of more, if the voters returned a Conservative government, and if the Mayor was up to the job. “I am asking the Mayor to think big about the capital’s long-term needs… I have asked Boris to think about what the next big investments should be for London,” he said.
Boris Johnson stared at his notes, gazed at the audience, put on his spectacles, took them off again, gazed at his notes, and, finally, he smiled.
His comeback was to remind the audience that while Osborne controls the purse strings, he, Boris, is the master of the spoken word. In his Etonian drawl he declared that he was “absolutely thrilled” by the Chancellor’s lecture, and added: “I am going to plant my flag very firmly on the entirety of your remarks” – thereby achieving something Osborne could never do: he made the audience laugh.