Neil O'Brien appointed special adviser to Osborne

Policy Exchange director will focus on developing the Conservatives' next manifesto.

George Osborne has just completed his second big signing of the week. After naming Mark Carney as governor of the Bank of England on Monday, he's secured the services of Policy Exchange director Neil O'Brien as a special adviser. O'Brien, who has been director of the cente-right think-tank since 2008, will focus on the development of the Conservatives' next general election manifesto.

It's a smart move by Osborne; O'Brien, a New Statesman contributor, is one of the most innovative conservative thinkers of his generation and a moderniser who understands what the Tories need to do if they're to stand a chance of winning in 2015. In a piece for the NS last month ("The challenge for the Tories is to find their own version of Blairism"), he wrote:

At the next election, Tory candidates need a clearer offering for those who work hard on low incomes; something to say to the fifth of households that live in social housing; and an agenda that makes sense to people in areas of high unemployment and to the millions who work in public services.

As he showed in another piece for the NS, on the meaning of "Milibandism", he also understands the threat posed by Labour.

Policy Exchange deputy director David Skelton, another NS contributor, will serve as acting director while the think-tank looks for a replacement for O’Brien. Congratulations to both.

Neil O'Brien has served as director of Policy Exchange since 2008.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.