Boris Johnson has his work cut out to stop George Osborne’s masterful manoeuvres

More unites these Bullingdon brothers than divides them

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The Independent Online

With everyone captivated by the Labour melodrama, the more languid battle for the Tory leadership continues almost unnoticed. So perhaps this is the moment to record that George Osborne is now a 2-1 favourite to succeed David Cameron, and that Boris Johnson’s odds are lengthening all the time.

Although one thing distinguishes the rivals (George is more candid, as we will see, about his ambition), more unites these Bullingdon brothers than divides them – and nothing more than their shared craving to occupy the holiday chalet located 0.79cm to the south of his colon that Rupert Murdoch reserves for his chosen one du jour. Last week, The Independent revealed George’s cosy tête-à-tête with Rupert a few days before his cypher John Whittingdale, the alleged Culture and Media Secretary, took the axe to the BBC budget.

It’s a delight to find George doing Murdoch’s commercial bidding. A few years after the fear that phone hacking would destroy Rupert’s political influence put me on anti-anxiety medication, what a relief to find the status quo ante quietly restored. And while I wouldn’t give this any credence, because I’m one of the dunces who foresaw an election dead heat, this column confidently predicts that within a year, or two at most, George will deploy his proxy Whittingdale to permit the Family Murdoch to realise its dream of taking a 100 per cent stake in BSkyB. If the Chancellor pulls that trick off – and with no effective opposition, it’s hard to see what could stop him – Boris's own splendid efforts at ingratiation will come to nothing, and it will be George whom The Sun and The Times acclaim as the messiah.

Someone George recently showed around the cabinet room reports tapping the Prime Minister’s chair, and saying, “Come on, admit it, you want to sit here.” “It all takes time,” replied a grinning Chancellor. Indeed it does, and this re-run of a previous marathon between a tortoise and a hare looks ever more likely to frank the Aesopian form book.

Ed Balls relaxes his stays away from Parliament

How cheering to find Ed Balls, such a startlingly gracious election-night loser, emerging at last from the darkness. Balls drolly tells the Telegraph that he turned down an offer to appear on I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! on the reasonable grounds that one savage electoral rejection per year must suffice. Meanwhile, his metamorphosis from macho football pitch hard man into high-camp icon gathers pace. The man who recently spent a family holiday cycling through Austria singing tunes from The Sound of Music reports that, after learning that he’d lost his Yorkshire seat, he drowned his sorrows in a schooner of Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

More pearls of wisdom  from Liz Kendall

While Ball’s missus, Yvette Cooper, campaigns for Labour’s leadership on the Trappist Vow platform, Liz Kendall is in excellent voice. The Blairite no-hoper has shared more of what might indulgently be called her thinking with Newsnight. When Laura Kuenssberg suggested that Liz’s views were different from Jeremy Corbyn’s, she was having none of it. “I think you’re misunderstanding this,” replied Liz. “I want to see kids starting school ready.”

This refusal to seek refuge in meaningless orthodoxies – most people want to see children starting school in their pyjamas, holding a bowl of Rice Crispies – impressed. So did her desire to see “a strong economy in every part of the country”. With mainstream opinion firmly behind a weak economy in Runcorn, Swafham and Oswestry, it required guts to take such a controversial stance.

Are you calling my manifesto Tory? A Blairite gets angry

So much calm common sense has been lavished on Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign that it feels invidious to single out one columnist for special praise. But the cap must be doffed to Phil Collins (not that one) for his ferocious Times column. This erstwhile Mr Tony Blair speechwriter belongs to the tiny cabal of extant uber-Blairites who elegantly mirror their hero’s absolute certainty about everything, and replicate the pleasingly contemptuous tone with which he dismisses anyone who disagrees. Responding to the depiction of surviving Blairites as “a virus”, Phil took gravest umbrage at being likened to a Tory – “a pathetic insult ... to which, as the product of a working-class Tory family, I take particular exception”. Quite right, too. Where do these “idiots”, as he called them, get the gall to mistake a chap like him for a natural Conservative? Philip Collins, who previously worked in investment banking, is chief leader-writer of The Times.

We’ll know exactly where to find you

I was delighted to read that Corbyn’s surge has tempted Chris Mullin to write a sequel to A Very British Coup. By purest happenstance, I rewatched the ITV dramatisation of Mullin’s novel for research the night before this exciting news broke. In one scene, the smoothly odious old spook orchestrating the Marxist PM’s downfall is asked which forces enabled Harry Perkins’ rise to power. “All those people, I suppose,” he sniffily murmurs, “who read The Independent.” If and when Corbyn drags us to the very precipice of totalitarian statehood, we’ll know whom to blame.