Bruce Anderson: To silence his Tory critics, Osborne must do more. Now

He wants to think everything through rather than to rush out spurious solutions
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The Independent Online

The Tory party is uneasy. It cannot understand why the normal rules of politics have been suspended. A few weeks ago, Labour's poll ratings were at record lows and the average Tory MP had only one anxiety: the removal of Gordon Brown. With him leading Labour, Tories thought that they could sleep-walk to victory, a view which was widely shared in the Labour Party.

Since then, the economic crisis has intensified. Many politicians assumed that this would finish off Mr Brown. Instead, it has helped him. Suddenly, a Tory election win is no longer a certainty. Most Tories feel that they have spent long enough in opposition and some of them have reverted to the habit which did their party such damage for 15 years: approaching every problem with an open mouth. The principal victim of this oral incontinence has been George Osborne.

In part, this is Mr Osborne's fault. Over the past few weeks, he has shown himself to be deficient in two important qualities: pompousness and intellectual dishonesty. On holiday, he did not act like a future elder statesman. He behaved like an ordinary bloke in his thirties who meets an old mate, gets invited on to a mega-yacht and thinks "that sounds fun".

Back from holiday, he did not imitate Gordon Brown. The Prime Minister has no idea how to bring about an economic recovery; no one does. But Mr Brown has been brilliant at pretending. He has exalted the importance of marginal measures which are far from certain to be beneficent. Throughout, his sole aim has been to project himself as the man in control, and thus far, it has worked, in so doing it has undermined George Osborne's credibility. This may be unfair, but politics is.

Mr Osborne was far more concerned to think everything through than to rush out spurious solutions. The shadow Chancellor is aware that a case could be made for a Keynesian stimulus. It could be argued that in a severe recession, any sort of economic activity is better than none. But Britain is already awash with government borrowing.

The public sector borrowing requirement is heading for record levels, even before the Government adds more in next week's emergency budget. Sterling has slumped at a record speed. Can we be certain that investors will buy gilts if a further depreciation seems inevitable?

George Osborne knows that the recovery must come from the private sector and that this depends on a restoration of confidence. A so-called fiscal stimulus which further undermined that confidence would merely stimulate an accelerated decline. That is why the Tories' proposals have been so modest. In current circumstances, it would be the height of irresponsibility to propose any new measure unless it could be guaranteed to be harmless; hence the anxieties in the Treasury about Gordon Brown's intentions.

Even so, all this goes against many Tory grains. A number of Tory MPs think that they know what is needed: spending cuts and tax increases. They have a point. Outside the essential services, it ought to be possible for the Government to make savings. When every firm in the land is reviewing its expenditure, why should the state be exempt? The Tories are now working on a list of efficiency savings, something which should have been done months ago.

But the criticisms of Mr Osborne from within his own party are not only economic in motivation. In 2005, the party was subjected to a Bolshevik coup. A small group of able and ambitious young men had decided that the Tories had to change or die. They formed the nucleus of the Cameron campaign. The Cameroons cannot be accused of deceiving their fellow-Tories. There was plenty of talk about change. Even so, the radical urgency with which they set about their task took a lot of breath away.

So did the youthfulness of the new leadership. In the mid-Nineties, David Cameron was winning golden opinions among the party's seniors. They knew that he would rise fast. Some of them are still rubbing their eyes in disbelief at just how fast.

The uneasiness is not confined to those well into middle age. In 2005, when Mr Cameron was likely to become leader and Mr Osborne was already shadow Chancellor, there was a lot of muttering in Tory ranks. Ambitious MPs – that is almost a tautology – would inquire whether this meant that anyone over 40 was finished. Three years on, there are still occasional outbreaks of similar sentiments.

In Mr Cameron's case, that does not matter. He has stamped his authority on the party. But Mr Osborne has become the focal point for youth-ist resentments. One can understand why. In an ideal world, the shadow Chancellor would look older. In these chippy times, it would help if he had a different accent.

There are alternative shadow Chancellors, including a former chancellor, Ken Clarke, still in the prime of vigour. Over the past few weeks, he has enjoyed himself and delighted his party by the breezy ease with which he has patronised Gordon Brown. A lot of Tories would like to see him on the front bench. Yet there is a problem: Europe. Say this to a Clarke supporter and he will retort that the European issue has subsided. That is true, but it would be foolish to underestimate Gordon Brown.

As soon as Mr Clarke returned to the shadow Cabinet, the Prime Minister would deploy all the power of his office to raise Europe's salience. This would not matter, on one condition: that Mr Clarke would agree to forswear federalism and to accept the leadership's moderately eurosceptic line. This seems unlikely.

If Ken had been willing to make such a sacrifice, he might well have become Prime Minister and would certainly have been Tory Leader. But dear old Ken is one of the stubbornest creatures in public life. For two years, the Tory party has avoided disputes about Europe. Apart from Bill Cash, is any Tory nostalgic for the good old days of constant euro-rows?

There is also William Hague. Since Mr Hague ceased to be Tory leader, he has grown into both his hair-cut and the public's affection. Politically, he would be an improvement on Mr Osborne, and if there is ever a change, he would be the choice. But that is still unlikely. Another of the most obstinate figures in public life will not have it.

Because David Cameron is so youthful, few people do justice to his fixity of purpose or to his political and intellectual self-confidence. This is a man who not only knows how to think through difficult questions. Having done so, he also knows how to have a good night's sleep, untroubled by self-doubt.

More than anyone, Mr Cameron knows how much George Osborne has contributed to the Tory revival. David Cameron relies on George's intellect, political judgement and friendship. He also believes that if he were to bend to pressure and make a change, his own standing would be undermined. But the next few days are crucial. Everyone is preparing for the Brown package. There will be an almighty political battle, and if Mr Osborne does not secure at least a draw, the doubts will grow while the grumbling increases.

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