Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Why Osborne Won't Be The Next Conservative Leader

One of the jibes thrown by the SNP and their supporters about the upcoming EU Referendum is that this is an internal dispute within the Conservative Party and that it’s unseemly for us, presumably the public at large, to be involved in it.  True, many of the arguments have had a right wing tinge to them, but we should hopefully see a more left wing Euroscepticism – not unlike that outlined by myself two posts back – emerge.

Osborne will be hoping to emulate this man, John Major, as a
Chancellor who becomes Prime Minister
Of course, what hasn’t helped is the emergence of Boris ‘Boom Boom’ Johnson as a fully fledged Eurosceptic.  This has added fuel to the fire that is the argument that really this referendum might as well be the campaign to see who succeeds Cameron as Conservative leader, and ultimately PM.  What it has ensured is that nobody, for the moment anyway, is talking about the guy who was – and probably still is – favourite to succeed Cameron. 

I had never bought into the hype about Osborne. There’s way too much Gordon Brown in Osborne, he believes his own hype as a master manipulator (probably helped by Blairites who swallow the Osborne hype as well) and is a ridiculously poor chancellor.  Six years into his term as Chancellor and the country is still in the sick bed thanks to his policy of strangling the economy by taking money out of it to shore up the deficit.  The hallmark of his chancellorship has been his eagerness to set traps for his opponents to fall into, to paint his opponents as whatever he wants them to, rather than managing the economic health of the country.  It’s not that Osborne is useless as some sort of political chess grandmaster, its more that his card is marked as someone who is sleekit.

Osborne’s problem isn’t just confined to his position as a chancellor not as successful as he would like.  History is against Osborne as well.  Since the start of the 20th century, only six men have made the move directly from number 11 Downing Street to take up residence next door, four of them Conservatives.  Stanley Baldwin was the first in 1923, shortly before calling & losing an election the following year.  Neville Chamberlain was Baldwin’s Chancellor during his third term and succeeded him as Prime Minister in 1937.  Harold Macmillan was Anthony Eden’s chancellor during the Suez Crisis and succeeded Eden when he resigned at the start of 1957.  The most recent Tory to make this move was John Major, Chancellor for just over a year (having previously been Foreign Secretary for just over three months).  It is not the guaranteed step into leadership that many people assume that it is.

If that particular piece of history doesn’t count against Osborne, then a glance of the history of Conservative leadership elections should.  The one golden rule of Conservative leadership elections is that the favourite never wins. The first Tory leadership election saw Edward Heath defeat the marginal favourite Reginald Maudling.  Heath was favourite to see off his shadow Education secretary, Margaret Thatcher, ten years later.  Major was seen as the outsider when Michael Hestletine launched his bid to oust Thatcher in the autumn of 1990.  Kenneth Clark was favourite in both 1997 and in 2001, but lost both times (to William Hague in ’97 and to Iain Duncan Smith in 2001).  In 2005 David Davis was the slight favourite, but lost out to the then shadow Education secretary David Cameron.

Indeed the lesson of this (if we ignore Thatcher’s defeat of Anthony Mayer in 1989 or John Major’s defeat of John Redwood in 1995) is that the outsiders should be the ones to watch.  Assuming, as most of the professional commentariat are doing, that the leadership will be between Osborne and Boris. Who would be the outsiders?

I would suspect that Theresa May’s chance to lead has gone with Cameron’s General Election win last year.  I’m not convinced that Hammond has leadership chops while both Gove and Hunt would be too divisive to be leaders.  The Labour aligned blogger Ian Smart thinks that Nicky Morgan would be someone to watch.  She is on the periphery of things and could be a good outside bet.  Certainly one to watch, but I think there’s a better candidate out there.

Sajid Javed is sufficiently under the radar, and knows perfectly how to say the correct things to a Conservative audience.  He has the makings of being a conference favourite in the future, whatever his future, and knows intuitively how to play to the right of his party.  Even when speaking about the EU, he has backed his leaders plans though has placed his euroscepticism near the front of his speeches.  When the time comes to choose a successor to Cameron, I believe the Conservative Party will tire of being run by Eton alumni – because of jibes about jobs for the boys and being ruled by elites – and pick someone who in many ways is more like the Tories last PM from blue collar stock, John Major.  At a time when the stock of immigration is not at it’s best, what would be more Conservative than to pull off another rags to riches success story whilst wrong footing Labour at the same time – to paraphrase a 1990’s slogan, what to the Conservatives have to offer the son of an immigrant who got a job as a bus conductor – they could make him leader.

I can see two scenarios playing out for the next Tory leadership election.  One involves Osborne and Boris fighting it out and Javid coming through the middle.  The other involves Osborne running but damaged by recession and his record coming back to haunt him while Boris is also running but as a backbencher, having been exiled by Cameron post referendum.  Either scenario is likely to happen, and in both outcomes the end result for Osborne is not the prize he seeks.

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