Conservative Diary

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Could Osborne emerge as the darling of the Right - and a challenge to David Cameron?

The foundation of the modernised Conservative Party is the Cameron/Osborne relationship.  The Blair/Brown fratricide chipped away at the New Labour edifice, undermined and weakened it, and played a part in the last Government's failure to win a fourth term.  The Cameron/Osborne partnership is a reminder that today's Tory leadership it itself a coalition.  Were it to fail, that coalition would probably founder - and the Coalition Government with it.

One of the strengths of James Forsyth, the Spectator's Political Editor, is that he's constantly probing away at the Cameron/Osborne alliance, sniffing out divergencies and differences.  This doesn't always make him the leadership's pin-up boy, but he's good sources, and produced one of the few inside accounts of the pre-election campaign Conservative wobbles - the Tory situation is now verging on critical.

Spectator_26.06.10-1 In this week's Spectator, he gives a dramatic read of the political significance of the budget, setting up Osborne as the potential leader of the Conservative right.  His thesis is that while in Opposition Osborne seemed unambitious about shrinking the state, in Government he's starting to do it - as the Budget proved.  His piece is provocatively titled Osborne is becoming the true Tory leader.

Forsyth lays the evidence out in some detail: read him, for example, on how the cut-off point for child tax credit is calculated to free target voters from state dependency (indeed, read the whole piece).  I think there's something in his thesis.  As I've written before, the bond between Cameron and Osborne is that they're exceptionally able professional politicians who put winning first.  But while Cameron's at heart a modernised rural Tory, Osborne is an urban social and economic liberal.

So, from one point of view, was Margaret Thatcher.  The idea of Osborne as an heir to Thatcher, while Cameron is the self-labelled "heir to Blair", sounds outlandish, and certainly hasn't been proved.  But the Chancellor, as Forsyth points out, is an operator.  He's skilled at schmoozing backbenchers.  He's keen to look after Ministers.  (During the last Parliament, he quietly let it be known that he'd saved some future Ministerial cars.)

And he looks after his own.  Note how the Tories in the Treasury team represent continuity from Opposition.  He brought Justine Greening back, and Greg Hands, who made way for her, got the important consolation prize of appointment as Osborne's PPS.  Forsyth presents Osborne as a Michaelangelo, carving away at the Coalition's marble to craft, for the next election, a Conservative majority.  Perhaps the marble's also a way of thinking of Osborne in opposition.  Could he emerge from it in government as the angel of the right?

Paul Goodman


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