Cameron is under ever-greater pressure to sack Osborne

A growing band of conservative commentators are calling for the Chancellor's head.

When David Cameron was asked in 2010 whether he could ever sack George Osborne, one of his closest friends and the godfather of his son, Elwen, he replied:

Yes. He is a good friend, but we’ve has that conversation a number of times over the past four years.

To be fair to George he said ‘If ever you want to move me to another job, it is your decision and it is your right’.

With an increasing number of conservative commentators calling for Osborne to be replaced as Chancellor in the forthcoming reshuffle, Cameron can expect to hear these words quoted back at him. Last month, Peter Oborne, the Telegraph's chief political commentator, declared that Cameron should "make an honest man of the Chancellor, and send him to Central Office ". On Saturday, the Daily Express's Patrick O'Flynn argued that Osborne should be axed as part of a latter-day version of Macmillan’s “Night of the Long Knives”. Today, the Sun's Trevor Kavanagh fumes that "Osborne has shredded his reputation and turned the Coalition into a lame duck administration" and argues that a "job swap with William Hague is the solution" (an idea first floated in yesterday's Mail on Sunday).

For now, there is no evidence that David Cameron is actively considering replacing his Chancellor. But the speculation over the latter's future is a mark of just how far his stock has fallen. He now trails Ed Balls by eight points as "the most capable Chancellor", and more Tory members are dissatisfied with his performance than are satisfied.

The most common charge now levelled against Osborne is that he can no longer continue to combine his duties as Chancellor with those as the Tories' chief election strategist. Ed Miliband seizes every opportunity to refer to him as "the part-time Chancellor" at PMQs because he knows that it is a view shared by many on the other side of the house. It was a matter of some debate in Conservative circles as to whether Osborne should have been appointed Chancellor in the first place. A significant number believed that he was better suited to the post of party chairman, where he would be free to plot and scheme the Tories' way to victory. The coincidence of the double-dip recession and the downturn in the Conservatives' political fortunes means that many now believe that Osborne should be forced to choose between his two jobs.

Any suggestion that Osborne will be replaced (as opposed to "should be") is wide of the mark. As Cameron's key political strategist (Osborne attends the daily 4pm Downing Street political meeting), he is likely masterminding the reshuffle. But that Cameron will soon be forced to insist that his Chancellor is doing "an excellent job" (if he has to say he is, he isn't) is indicative of his government's malaise.

David Cameron has previously said that he would be prepared to sack George Osborne. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Is Scottish Labour on the way back, or heading for civil war?

There are signs of life, but also recriminations.

The extraordinary rise of the Scottish Tories and the collapse in SNP seat numbers grabbed most of the headlines in the recent general election. Less remarked on was the sudden, unexpected exhalation of air that came from what was thought to be the corpse of Scottish Labour.

In 2015, Labour lost 40 of its 41 Scottish seats as the SNP rocketed from six to 56, was wiped out in its Glaswegian heartlands, and looked to have ceded its place as the choice of centre-left voters – perhaps permanently – to the Nationalists. But while the electorate’s convulsion in June against the SNP’s insistence on a second independence referendum most benefited Ruth Davidson, it also served to reanimate Labour.

The six seats grabbed back (making a total of seven) included three in the West of Scotland, proving that the Nat stranglehold on Labour’s territory was not quite as secure as it had seemed. There is, it appears, life in the old dog yet.

Not only that, but the surprise success of Jeremy Corbyn across the UK has stiffened Labour’s spine when it comes to insisting that it, and not the SNP, is the rightful home of Scotland’s socialists.

Corbyn was largely kept south of the border during the election campaign – Kezia Dugdale, the leader at Holyrood, had supported Owen Smith’s leadership challenge. But in August, Corbyn will embark on a five-day tour of marginal SNP constituencies that Labour could potentially take back at the next election. The party has set a target of reclaiming 18 Scottish seats as part of the 64 it needs across Britain to win a majority at Westminster. The trip will focus on traditional areas such as Glasgow and Lanarkshire, where tiny swings would return seats to the People’s Party. Dugdale is no doubt hoping for some reflected glory.

Corbyn will present himself as the authentically left-wing choice, a leader who will increase public spending and invest in public services compared to the austerity of the Tories and the timidity of the SNP. “Labour remains on an election footing as a government-in-waiting, ready to end failed austerity and ensure that Scotland has the resources it needs to provide the public services its people deserve,” he said. “Unlike the SNP and the Tories, Labour will transform our economy through investment, insisting that the true wealth creators - that means all of us – benefit from it.”

The SNP has benefited in recent years from the feeling among many north of the border that Labour and the Tories were committed to differing shades of a similar economic programme, that was starving public services of cash and that paid little attention to Scottish desires or needs. But as the Nats’ spell in government in Edinburgh has worn on, first under Alex Salmond and now Nicola Sturgeon, with little being done to tackle the nation’s social problems, patience has started to run out.

Dugdale said yesterday that she “looked forward to joining Jeremy in August as we take our message to the people of Scotland”. That’s not a sentiment we would have heard from her before June. But it does raise the future spectacle of Davidson’s Tories battling for the centre and centre-right vote and Labour gunning for the left. The SNP, which has tried to be all things to all people, will have to make a choice – boasting that it is “Scotland’s Party” is unlikely to be enough.

The 20th anniversary of the referendum that delivered the Scottish Parliament is almost upon us. Then, Scottish Labour provided the UK and the Westminster government with figures of the stature of Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, Donald Dewar and George Robertson. That was a long time ago, and the decline in quality of Labour’s representatives both in London and Edinburgh since has been marked. The SNP’s decade of success has attracted much of the brightest new talent through its doors. Young Scots still seem to be set on the idea of independence. Labour has a credibility problem that won’t be easily shaken off.

But still, the body has twitched – perhaps it’s even sitting up. Is Scottish Labour on the way back? If so, is that down to the SNP’s declining popularity or to Corbyn’s appeal? And could Dugdale be a convincing frontwoman for a genuinely left-wing agenda?

There may be trouble ahead. Yesterday, the Scottish Labour Campaign for Socialism – whose convener, Neil Findlay MSP, ran Corbyn’s leadership campaign in Scotland – accused Dugdale of “holding Corbyn back” in June. A spokesperson for the group said: “While it’s great we won some seats back, it’s clear that the campaign here failed to deliver. While elsewhere we've seen people being enthused by ‘for the many, not the few’ we concentrated on the dispiriting visionless ‘send Nicola a message’ – and paid a price for that, coming third in votes and seats for the first time in a century. In Scotland we looked more like [former Scottish leader] Jim Murphy’s Labour Party than Jeremy Corbyn’s – and that isn’t a good look.”

While the group insists this isn’t intended as a challenge to Dugdale, that might change if Corbyn receives a rapturous reception in August. We’ll learn then whether Scotland is falling for the high-tax, high-spending pitch that seems to be working so well elsewhere, and whether Scottish Labour has jerked back to life only to find itself staring down the barrel of a civil war.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland).