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Ten things you should know about George Osborne

Tim Montgomerie 

George Parker, the FT's political editor, has produced a superb profile of George Osborne today - for the FT Weekend magazine. I recommend you read it all but I summarise the top ten observations below.

Is George Osborne going to make history?: "George Osborne, Britain’s 39-year-old chancellor of the exchequer, is not just holding the fate of Britain’s coalition government in his hands. His experiment – some would say reckless gamble – with austerity has made him the poster boy of fiscal hawks around the world. If Osborne’s plan to sort out Britain’s yawning deficit in just four years works, it will inspire politicians and economists for years to come."


The submarine strategy: "“He’s playing a long game,” says one Treasury colleague. Osborne knows he is not loved by the public, but if he succeeds he hopes to earn their respect. Conservative observers say he is “like a submarine”, surfacing only to make strategic interventions when he has something important to say, then disappearing for weeks on end."... Having announced the cuts last year, he retired from the fray and left it to departmental ministers to justify them."

Nick Clegg has soaked up the hatred that Osborne had expected to face: "He had predicted before the election he would be Britain’s most unpopular man within six months, but Osborne has cannily managed to avoid that fate... When asked why his prophecy about becoming Britain’s public enemy number one has not yet materialised, Osborne jokes with colleagues: “I hadn’t reckoned on Nick Clegg.” While Clegg was burned in effigy in Whitehall at the student protests last year, Osborne has yet to become a public target for eggs or worse."

Osborne is largely based at Number 11 rather than at the Treasury: "Little noticed, Osborne has shifted the centre of his operations from the Treasury to his official residence at 11 Downing Street, with its interconnecting door to Cameron’s house next door. “The door is permanently pinned open,” says one Osborne ally, noting that relations between Gordon Brown, former Labour prime minister, and his chancellor Alistair Darling, were markedly less cordial."

Cameron's number two: "Osborne is back in Downing Street for the daily “four o’clock”; another meeting with Cameron’s inner team. That the chancellor likes to point out that he chairs this meeting when Cameron is away is a sign of Osborne’s unofficial rank in government."

The public image problem and the private warmth: "Osborne’s problem in these austere times is that he is rich and he looks it. Some have said he resembles a Regency buck; his public caricature is that of the sneering aristocrat, cold and aloof. One minister says he can be “supercilious”; one associate calls him “the most calculating person” they have ever met. But his acquaintances tell a different story: of a warm, loyal friend with a dark sense of humour best shielded from public view. In private he is good company, a gossip with a boyish giggle and a hinterland that takes in theatre, opera, skiing, pop music and an obsession with US politics. Treasury officials talk of a good boss, on top of his brief, careful to consult senior officials and dutiful in sending out notes of thanks to junior staffers for their work."

Mandelson Peter 2 Peter Mandelson concedes Osborne may, one day, become leader: "“He’s become a more authoritative figure,” he says of Osborne. “Before the election he was seen as rather a tactical and political figure. But he is strong and pronounced in his policy preferences.” Asked whether Osborne might eventually succeed Cameron as Tory leader, the chancellor’s former nemesis pauses and then makes a remarkable observation: “Before the election that would have been discounted – I don’t think it would be discounted now.”"

The Brown/Osborne parallels... and differences: "Osborne might publicly deride Gordon Brown, but in certain ways his behaviour echoes that of the former Labour chancellor in his successful early years: the low media profile, the cultivation of the party base, the courting of the commentariat, the drinks with media proprietors. But Osborne’s supporters say there is a crucial difference: if Brown ultimately wanted Blair to fail, the chancellor wants – and needs – Cameron to succeed."

The networking Osborne: "Osborne is an enthusiastic user of Dorneywood, the chancellor’s country residence, where he entertains colleagues and friends and impresses contacts... Osborne has, almost unnoticed, been creating an awesome network of support that could sustain a bid for the leadership when Cameron finally stands down. New MPs say Osborne is by far the most assiduous cabinet minister when it comes to talking to and reassuring parliamentarians that his strategy is right. “He’s not warm,” says one. “But he listens more than he talks and you feel like you are having a grown-up conversation with him."

His Plan A for the economy will sink his own submarine and the government if it goes wrong: "The chancellor has never given up hope of one day seizing the prize that he was apparently eyeing as a teenager at St Paul’s School when he changed his name. If Osborne’s big economic gamble pays off, who knows? But if it fails, it will not be just the Conservative party, the coalition government and the British economy that are doomed."


Congratulations to George Parker. Alongside Paul Goodman's profile of the Chancellor it's the most definitive so far.


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