Boy George is looking cheerful, Nigel's the dutiful dad and the s-l-o-w pace of politics pre-Twitter

The IoS's political editor takes a look back at the week

Share

Eight years ago this summer, shortly after the Conservatives' third successive election defeat, George Osborne announced he was not interested in standing as Tory leader because his priority was to restore the party's lost economic credibility, long gone the way of its electoral chances.

He told The Daily Telegraph: "I have a big enough job being Shadow Chancellor, opposing Gordon Brown and developing an economic policy that broadens the appeal of the Conservative Party." Last week, at the press gallery lunch in Westminster, the Chancellor declared that "opposition to what I am doing in the economy is crumbling". His mission from 2005 seems all but accomplished, in his eyes. So what is the Chancellor's next eight-year plan?

In 2005, Lynton Crosby (then, like now, the Tories' election strategist) advised the 34-year-old Osborne that he was too young to be Tory leader. Now 42, that no longer applies. When he was asked about his leadership ambitions at Thursday's lunch, Osborne said he was happy doing the job of Chancellor – a hardened and varnished old conker of a reply for the politically ambitious, and also one that echoes his 2005 declaration. Whenever we play the game of tipping the next Tory leader, Boris Johnson and Theresa May are named first, and the bookies have Osborne at 16-1. In the general public's eyes, he is effigy material. But does this mean he should be overlooked as a future leader? And can it really be the ultimate ambition of a 42-year-old man to stay in the same job he's already had, in opposition and in government, for eight years?

Owing to his performance on Thursday, I think the answer is no on both counts. In the morning, he was in full electioneering mode by telling the Treasury select committee there would be no tax rises if the Tories win the next election. At lunch, he was all well-rounded self-deprecation, ridiculing his own image as a toff – saying he only chose a Byron burger as a takeaway because McDonald's "had run out of McLobster" and joking about President Obama's "Jeffrey" gaffe. Osborne then launched into an assessment of where the political centre ground lies, sounding for all the world like Tony Blair.

These may just be the words of a man with his eyes firmly on the coming election campaign. But he must also wonder what happens if the Tories do not win, which would surely force a leadership contest. If, by 2015, the UK economy has stable economic growth of 2 or 3 per cent, yet an outright majority has eluded the Conservatives, Osborne is in a strong position to lead his party.

This prospect makes his 20-year friendship with David Cameron interesting. A year ago, after the omni-shambles Budget, Osborne was a liability for the Prime Minister. Cameron was being urged to sack his Chancellor. Today, the problem is turned on its head. Now it is the PM who is the subject of criticism among Tory MPs. The economy is looking healthier. Whatever the rights and wrongs of his policy, Osborne can be credited with the greatest hard-nosed political project of recent years, driving through austerity against all advice. Now, the stagnating economy is looking healthier, and there was no double-dip recession after all. Osborne is, arguably, more of a threat to the Prime Minister as a successful Chancellor than as a discredited one. He may be doing everything he can to secure an election victory, but it's not the end of his world if they lose.

Tough love

Sitting a few seats away from the Chancellor at the Thursday lunch was Nigel Lawson, one of his predecessors at No 11 who also achieved something that the younger Tory failed at – becoming a journalist. How is Nigella, I asked Lord Lawson, immediately feeling that it was a stupid question in the circumstances, given that days earlier she had learnt her husband was divorcing her in the pages of a Sunday newspaper following those horrific pictures at Scott's restaurant. Her father looked concerned for his daughter, but said: "She'll survive. She is tough, like me, it's in her genes." As Christopher Hitchens wrote about his own daughters, "nobody but a lugubrious serf can possibly wish for a father who never goes away".

Twitter effect

In the game of snakes and ladders that is Westminster, the vituperation and venom, plotting and partisanship are what the political class feeds on, as we saw with PMQs last week. But very rarely does a political row spin so out of control that someone dies. That happened 10 years ago this Wednesday, when David Kelly took his own life after being caught up in the vicious war between Tony Blair's government and the BBC. Looking back, it is striking how long the row took to build up – it began with a Today programme broadcast on 29 May, and ended when Dr Kelly's body was found on 18 July. Statements from No 10 attacking the BBC would be faxed over to the Press Association, where I worked. I wonder whether, if a similar row were to erupt today, in the age of Twitter, it would be so protracted. Political rows and scandals are more intense with Twitter, but they also come to a head and blow over much sooner. It is impossible to tell whether Dr Kelly would still be alive if Twitter had existed then, but it is hard to imagine such a long-running scandal today.

Millennium sparks

Intriguing counterfactual revelation from Greg Barker, the energy and climate change minister, who says that the last Tory government could have chosen to hide the nation's electricity pylons underground as a "legacy" for the millennium. Instead the cash was assigned to the ill-fated Millennium Dome, which was then inherited by Tony Blair, and is only now making money as the 02 Arena thanks to Beyoncé and her magnificent legs, which bestride the stage – a bit like an electricity pylon. Barker says: "It is not that I do not like a concert – I certainly do – but I cannot help thinking that, as a gift to future generations, undergrounding the complete pylon network might have been something that we could all cheer for long after Beyoncé has departed."

twitter.com/@janemerrick23

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Infrastructure / Development Support

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunity to join a...

Recruitment Genius: Partnership Relationship Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Partnership Relationship Mana...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Developer - Xamarin

£45000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software development compa...

Recruitment Genius: Student Support Assistants - Part Time & Full Time

£14600 - £17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are passionate about sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister ...: No child would be caged in a failing prison

Frances Crook
 

Daily catch-up: 99 days until the election, which is also the average life of a web page

John Rentoul
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore