Could George Osborne fall on his sword?

The Conservatives are now 10 points behind Labour. They need to be four ahead

Share
Related Topics

Could David Cameron sack George Osborne? It may seem a strange question, as I have commented only recently on how close they are, and how misleading the analogy is with the psychologically flawed relationship between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. They are comfortable enough with each other to say things that, in the Blair-Brown era, would have set off a hullabaloo of press speculation about tension at the top.

Last week, at a reception for Christian groups in Downing Street, Cameron recalled Osborne's advice to him at an early stage of his leadership campaign in 2005. "He told me to call it all off; it wasn't going anywhere." Easter, he said, "is all about, for me, the triumph of life over death – which in politics is always useful". You can imagine how the Daily Mail would have reported that if Blair had said something similar about Brown: "The Government was plunged into chaos last night as the Prime Minister accused his Chancellor of plotting to force him out of the leadership race eight years ago …."

But Osborne respects the Prime Minister's authority and both are confident enough to talk publicly about the past without overloading it with hidden meanings. When the Opposition attacks Osborne for being the "part-time Chancellor" because of his other job as Cameron's chief political adviser, as Ed Miliband did again in his Budget reply last week, they are in fact describing his role accurately. Cameron does not take any important decisions without consulting Osborne. They work as a team.

By considering the possibility that Osborne might move, therefore, I am not commenting on the state of relations between the Prime Minister and Chancellor, but on the seriousness of the Conservative Party's plight. Osborne had a successful Budget in that he appeared to be running while standing still. It has made no difference to the opinion polls which, after last year's Budget, is a remarkable achievement. Indeed, YouGov found that more people thought the Budget overall was "fair" (39 per cent) than "unfair" (31 per cent).

But the party needs to move forward. Standing still is not enough. Just to remind you again: to remain the largest party in a hung parliament, the Conservatives need to be about four points ahead of Labour in vote share. They are currently 10 points behind. That gap might close a bit when voters come to choosing leaders, and a bit more if Labour's alternative policy remains as weak as it is now. But the Tories are unlikely to take the lead unless the economy starts to grow in a way that generates more tax revenue than expected.

Or unless something else happens that shakes up the settled pattern of public opinion.

One possibility is a change of prime minister, which is why I thought Theresa May's tilt against the European Convention on Human Rights was interesting, and why Boris Johnson's comments about what would happen "if the ball came loose from the back of a scrum" prompted one knight of the shires (Sir Peter Tapsell) to offer, gentleman that he is, to give up his seat to someone who needed it more.

But if Cameron's job were threatened, surely he would decide a change of Chancellor is preferable. The Prime Minister himself is, after all, still an asset to the Tories, as our ComRes poll showed last week. Osborne, on the other hand, is a liability. This is not entirely fair, for like his opposite number, Ed Balls, he is engaging off-camera, while on a TV screen he repels voters.

Cameron could send Osborne to the Foreign Office, the move Blair contemplated for Brown but never carried out. The most striking replacement would be Theresa May; as the first female chancellor, she could shift perceptions without having to shift policy so much that it became an admission of failure. And she used to work at the Bank of England, you know.

Or Osborne could swap jobs with William Hague, a politician whose popularity continues to baffle me, but which appears to be more than just the British admiration of a dignified loser. A less likely candidate is Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary who, like May, has the advantage of having had a proper job outside politics, and who is a smoother talker on TV.

Would Cameron be ruthless enough? If he thought the Tories were facing certain defeat otherwise, I think we can take that as given. But he may not need to. Like most apparently arrogant and unperturbable people, Osborne shows flashes of insecurity. He often makes jokes in private after any setback that his career is about to end. It is possible that, if he thought the change would save the election, he might offer up his office for the good of the party, and therefore the nation.

The economy might turn up, but then, things might also get worse. The queues at Cypriot bank cash machines remind us that the eurozone is still under strain and could take our credit rating down with it. George Osborne may yet decide that losing his own job is a price worth paying.

Twitter: JohnRentoul

React Now

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

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Robert Fisk
 

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape