Conservative leadership watch: George Osborne gets the parade of candidates off to a conventional start

The Conservative party conference featured a clever speech from one of the most self-conciously clever people in politics

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Beauty contestant number one came on the stage looking a little awkward and shy. Some of us wondered if George Osborne might dress up for the occasion – the hard hat and hi-vis jacket look. But no, it was a navy suit. 

The parade of candidates for the Conservative leadership got off to a conventional start, with a joke at the expense of Ed Balls: “If I’d told you 12 months ago that the MP for Morley and Outwood was going to come on to this stage and speak in our economy debate, you’d have called security.” He said in praise of Andrea Jenkyns, the Tory MP who ousted the former shadow chancellor. 

It was a clever speech from one of the most self-consciously clever people in politics. Osborne said the party should worry about people who couldn’t bring themselves to vote Tory in May. You could almost see representatives looking at each other, saying: “But not even the Labour Party does that.” He stole another van-load of Labour ideas, from an infrastructure commission to devolved business rates. 

They know they ought to admire such brains, but his audience were much happier when he was bashing Labour or Europe. 

He read out, deadpan, but with the emphasis on the dead, a rather good line about being “careful not to disagree with Jeremy Corbyn about absolutely everything” or else he’d find himself in the shadow cabinet. 

And he also said that, as far as he was concerned, Britain would never be part of the single currency, which was a bit like saying, “My name is George Osborne”, but the audience of delegates clapped happily anyway. 

And he said: “The way this country is run is broken.”

This was an astonishing claim, even more astonishing than his saying that no government had “really” tried to solve the north-south divide before. 

Who has been running the country for the past five years? The Lib Dems? If “Broken Britain” is back, then we know someone is running for office. 

Thank you, contestant number one. Contestants numbers two (Theresa May) and three (Boris Johnson) will have their twirl on Tuesday.