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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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.