Before last year’s election, George Osborne toyed with the idea of moving from the Treasury to the Foreign Office. The move would have broadened his experience, allowed him to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership terms and perhaps softened his image as the axe man delivering the cuts.
In the end, he decided he would rather remain as Chancellor, a more powerful cross-government role that would enable him to complete unfinished business at the Treasury. Although they would never admit it, both he and David Cameron might now wish he had become Foreign Secretary after the election. The switch might have prevented the fiasco of last week’s Budget and the civil war now engulfing the Conservative Party.
The idea could be revived after the 23 June referendum on the EU. If Britain votes to leave, Mr Cameron will almost certainly depart soon, together with Mr Osborne’s fast dwindling hopes of succeeding him. But if the public votes to remain, some Tory MPs would like to see “Foreign Secretary Osborne”. Mr Cameron insisted on 21 March that Mr Osborne would deliver next year’s Budget. But moving him from the Treasury could be part of a healing process after what is now destined to be a bitter referendum campaign.
A post-referendum reshuffle would be inevitable if Mr Cameron wins. So in this game of musical chairs, who might fill Mr Osborne’s Treasury seat? Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary, is a former Treasury minister seen as a future chancellor. But he is unpopular with the EU Outers after deciding to support an In vote despite his professed Euroscepticism. Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, would be a more unifying appointment at the Treasury. Although campaigning for Brexit, he has remained on good terms with Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne and is set to play a key role in reuniting the Tories’ warring tribes. Some Tories are lobbying for him to be made Deputy Prime Minister, which would take Mr Osborne down a peg or two because he has the title First Secretary of State.
A safe pair of hands at the Treasury would be Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary and former shadow Chief Treasury Secretary.
A bolder option would be Theresa May, who might be due a move after becoming the longest-serving Home Secretary since 1892. Although she has not had an economic brief, her workrate is legendary. In the “post IDS” world, it might be a good advert for One Nation Conservatism to appoint the first woman chancellor.
- More about:
- George Osborne
- Tory party
- Conservative Party
- Iain Duncan Smith
- Tory leadership
- UK politics