Osborne's constituents want a full-time Chancellor

Eighty one per cent say that Osborne should spend less time working as the Tories' chief election strategist and more time on "fixing the economy".

As the economy has continued to underperform, the pressure on George Osborne to relinquish his role as the Conservatives' chief election strategist and focus solely on Treasury matters has grown. It isn't just Labour that's aggrieved by the "part-time Chancellor". 

One of Osborne's predecessors, Nigel Lawson, said last year that "it would be sensible for him to set aside his second job" and "focus exclusively on his job as Chancellor of the Exchequer". And in an anonymous article for the Mail on Sunday, a Tory MP wrote:

George Osborne has only ever been a part-time Chancellor. Talk to any City firm or institution that has met him for lunch and they will tell you he is fine talking about what it is like being in the Cabinet, what goes on in the Commons’ corridors and general political gossip.

But get him on the economy and he isn’t interested. He never has been. He changes the subject and gets his Treasury flunkies to answer the technical questions.

He just doesn’t do the work. He has got away with it until now, but the Budget mistakes have enabled people to see the reality. Previous Chancellors Tory and Labour, Nigel Lawson, Ken Clarke, Gordon Brown, Geoffrey Howe, Alistair Darling – say what you like about them, but they did the hard graft.

With the economy in danger of a triple-dip and the Tories 14 points behind in the polls, the view among Conservative MPs is that Osborne isn't particularly good at either of his jobs. Should next week's Budget disappoint, the pressure on Cameron to strip his friend of one or both of his roles will reach a new pitch. With this in mind, the Independent commissioned a mischievous poll by ComRes of Osborne's Tatton constituents seeking their views on the Chancellor's working arrangements.

Asked whether Osborne should "spend less time focusing on the Conservative Party's next General Election campaign and more time fixing the economy", 81 per cent, including 72 per cent of Conservative voters, agreed that he should. 

Given the wording of the question, the only surprising thing is that the numbers aren't higher. Nineteen per cent of Osborne's constituents apparently believe that he should spend more time focusing on winning a Conservative majority and less time on fixing the economy. Then again, given the mess he's made of a latter (and, indeed, of the former), perhaps that's for the best. 

Chancellor George Osborne walks into Downing Street to attend a security meeting with US Vice President Joe Biden. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.