George Osborne attacks 'wobbling' Theresa May in first interview since being sacked

Former chancellor pointedly describes PM as 'the best person of the candidates who put themselves forward'

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Friday 16 September 2016 08:04
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George Osborne on the Northern Powerhouse, grammar schools and Ed Davey

George Osborne has taken a swipe at Theresa May's key policies including her flagship grammar schools plan, amid claims he disliked her and was rude to her in Cabinet.

Just a week after Mrs May signaled a new wave of grammars, the former Chancellor said education policy should not focus on selection. He also revealed that while in office, he was advised that her much touted new security measures for the Hinkley nuclear project would make no difference.

In his first long interview since leaving office, Mr Osborne would only give muted endorsement of Mrs May's premiership, saying she was the best of the candidates that came forward.

It follows claims made by a former Lib Dem minister that the Tory ex-Chancellor and Mrs May failed to get along in meetings.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Osborne accused Mrs May's administration of having a momentary "wobble" over his pet 'Northern Powerhouse' project to boost economic growth outside London.

As he prepared to set up a new think tank to pursue the initiative, he was asked what he thought about Mrs May's controversial plans to open new selective grammar schools.

He said: "I always have thought with the debate about grammars, that 80% of the political discussion is about where 20% of the children go, when in fact we should be focusing on where 80% of the children go in a selective system.

"For me the great transformation of the last six years driven by Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan, under David Cameron's leadership, has been the academy and free school programme."

He said he was not against new grammars where they are wanted, but added: "The real focus of education reform remains the academy programme. Transforming the comprehensive schools that most people in this country send their children to."

Osborne won't be PM

It comes as Mrs May faces a Tory backlash over her sweeping reforms to education, headed by former Education Secretary Mrs Morgan.

Mrs May also faces criticism after approving the £18 billion Hinkley nuclear power project, despite security concerns and claims that it could leave UK bill-payers having to fork out £30 billion.

Mr Osborne was the deal's key backer before Mrs May paused it on coming into office, raising hopes the contract would be renegotiated. It was announced Thursday that the price paid for electricity would not change, but that the Government had introduced a 'golden share' to increase security, which allowed the Government to keep a stake in Hinkley and other new projects.

But asked about Mrs May's new measure, Mr Osborne said that his advice had been that it would not make any difference.

He said: "When it comes to this debate about the so-called 'special share' or 'golden share', it did come up in 2013 and we were asked the question should we offer this policy, should we create a special share.

"Now the advice we got, we all collectively got from civil servants in the energy ministry, from the security establishment was that the special share would not add any additional protection beyond what the very tough and tight regulatory regime already offered us."

He added: "It didn't seem to me necessary to have some special share."

Asked if he supported Mrs May's premiership he initially said she was "the best person of the candidates who put themselves forward", before later qualifying it by adding that those who put themselves forward were the people with the best chance of uniting the Conservative party.

Former Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey recently said Mr Osborne and Mrs May "disliked each other", partly because the ex-Chancellor saw her as a rival.

Mr Davey said: "He could be quite rude to her in Cabinet. Theresa May, I don't agree with everything, but she would be well-briefed, she would have evidence and arguements and statistics to back up her arguements and George Osborne rarely did."

Mr Osborne said in response: "In a Cabinet that included people like Ed Davey, [Mrs May] was one of the grown ups."

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