Not a great day for George Osborne. The allegations about what he and CCHQ CEO Andrew Feldman said to Russia's richest man are hardly helpful to the Conservative cause. The allegations follow a testing time for Mr Osborne. The Telegraph, in particular, has been questioning George Osborne's effectiveness during the economic crisis.
ConservativeHome has had its differences with Mr Osborne - on matching Labour's spending, green taxes and the dynamic effects of taxation - but we recognise his indispensable contributions to the renewal of the Conservative Party. We thought it a good time to remember ten of them:
- David Davis was hot favourite to win the 2005 Tory leadership race but he didn't. George Osborne ran David Cameron's insurgent leadership campaign; a campaign which won him ConservativeHome's 2006 Campaign of the Year award. George Osborne's political skills are extraordinary. It's one of the reasons Mandelson wants to damage him. Labour understands the centrality of Mr Osborne to the Conservatives' election hopes.
- George Osborne recruited Andy Coulson as the party's head of communications. The former News of the World Editor has been an essential driver of the party's improved press operation.
- When the Conservative Party was at its weakest under David Cameron's leadership - during Brown's honeymoon - it was George Osborne who crushed the über-moderniser thesis and insisted the party start talking more about crime and immigration. His recent switch to a more incentive-based approach to the environment fits with this pattern.
- The Shadow Chancellor's greatest moment came at the Conservative Party Conference in 2007 when he announced the effective abolition of inheritance tax. It transformed the Tory opinion poll position and was decisive in stopping an election that Brown might easily have won. The Spectator fairly described that IHT announcement as "the single most effective policy ever announced by the Conservatives in Opposition".
- When the Boris campaign was adrift in the autumn of 2007 it was Osborne that encouraged changes in the campaign strategy and staffing. The recruitment of Lynton Crosby as effective head of the campaign was an important 'Osborne call'.
- Over the last year George Osborne led Tory opposition to Labour's abolition of the 10p tax band. He recommended that it be front-and-centre during the party's campaign to win Crewe and Nantwich. As John Redwood has noted, it was George who first dubbed Brown's 10p budget as the tax con, not tax cut budget.
- George Osborne also came up with the "Labour didn't fix the roof while the sun was shining" soundbite. Few soundbites have done more to nail Labour for its failure to use the 'boom years' to prepare us for today's tough challenges.
- The Shadow Chancellor is a big convert to the social justice agenda. In the most impressive speech of his time as Treasury spokesman, to the CPS in the summer, he explained the many links between the weakness of society and the growth of government. The party's social reform agenda is more necessary in a recession, not less.
- The two year council tax freeze - announced at this year's Party Conference - won't save Britain from recession but it will be an important vote winner on the doorstep.
- There are also many other good economic policies he has overseen. Top of the list would be the plan for tax simplification, the fair fuel stabiliser and new powers for the Bank of England.
ConHome's first post of 2008 identified George Osborne as "the Conservative politician to watch in 2008". We paid tribute to his considerable skills but we also warned against his tendency to become too political:
"It is now important that many more voters want to trust him with the nation's finances. He needs to look in charge of his brief. Solid. Reassuring. With policies to reverse Britain's declining competitiveness. He is pursuing promising ideas on tax simplification, IT's transformative effect on government and financial regulation. We need to hear much more about those and less of what George Osborne thinks about Labour's day-to-day political woes. 2008 is the year in which George Osborne must become the nation's Chancellor-in-waiting."
We stand by those words.