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
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Will the House of Lords block Brexit?

Process, and a desire to say "I told you so" will be the real battle lines. 

It’s the people versus the peers, at least as far as some overly-excited Brexiteers are concerned. The bill to trigger Article 50 starts its passage through the House of Lords today, and with it, a row about the unelected chamber and how it ought to behave as far as Brexit is concerned.

This week will, largely, be sound and fury. More peers have signed up to speak than since Tony Blair got rid of the bulk of hereditary peers, triggering a 200-peer long queue of parliamentarians there to rage against the dying of the light, before, inevitably, the Commons prevailed over the Lords.

And to be frank, the same is ultimately going to happen with Article 50. From former SDPers, now either Labour peers or Liberal Democrat peers, who risked their careers over Europe, to the last of the impeccably pro-European Conservatives, to committed Labour and Liberal politicians, there are a number of pro-Europeans who will want to make their voices heard before bowing to the inevitable. Others, too, will want to have their “I told you so” on record should it all go belly-up.

The real battle starts next week, when the bill enters committee stage, and it is then that peers will hope to extract concessions from the government, either through defeat in the Lords or the threat of defeat in the Lords. Opposition peers will aim to secure concessions on the process of the talks, rather than to frustrate the exit.

But there are some areas where the government may be forced to give way. The Lords will seek to codify the government’s promise of a vote on the deal and to enshrine greater parliamentary scrutiny of the process, which is hard to argue against, and the government may concede that quarterly statements to the House on the process of Brexit are a price worth paying, and will, in any case, be a concession they end up making further down the line anyway.

But the big prize is the rights of EU citizens already resident here.  The Lords has the advantage of having the overwhelming majority of the public – and the promises of every senior Leaver during the referendum campaign – behind them on that issue. When the unelected chamber faces down the elected, they like to have the weight of public opinion behind them so this is a well-chosen battleground.

But as Alex Barker explains in today’s FT, the rights of citizens aren’t as easy to guarantee as they look. Do pensions count? What about the children of EU citizens? What about access to social security and health? Rights that are easy to protect in the UK are more fraught in Spain, for instance. What about a British expat, working in, say, Italy, married to an Italian, who divorces, but wishes to remain in Italy afterwards? There is general agreement on all sides that the rights of Brits living in the rest of the EU and citizens of the EU27 living here need to be respected and guaranteed. But that even areas of broad agreement are the subject of fraught negotiation shows why those “I told you sos”  may come in handy sooner than we think.

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