George Osborne speaks on EU reform at the Open Europe/Fresh Start conference on January 15, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Osborne would be the most hawkish foreign secretary in modern times

The Chancellor remains an unashamed neo-conservative and a champion of military intervention. 

The Tories may have trailed Labour in the polls for three years (today's YouGov poll has them six points behind), but they already appear to be measuring the curtains for another term in office. In this week's Spectator, James Forsyth reports that George Osborne is planning to become Foreign Secretary if the Tories win the next election. The story has been dismissed as "ludicrous" by allies of the Chancellor but it seems eminently plausible. 

As James writes, EU renegotiation would be the defining mission of a second term Cameron government and it would make sense for Osborne, the PM's closest ally and the Tories' most admired political brain, to lead it. Indeed, with hindsight, the Chancellor's recent speech on the subject to the Open Europe/Fresh Start conference looks like an application for the job. The word in Westminster has long been that William Hague will not serve another term as Foreign Secretary if the Tories remain in office and it would be remiss of the party not to prepare a successor (although who would take Osborne's place is another matter. Arise, Sajid Javid?). 

Janan Ganesh, Osborne's biographer, wrote last year: "Never a public performer, he is in his element in Brussels’ back rooms. One Foreign Office mandarin says he is more engaged with the EU than William Hague, the foreign secretary. Some of this is purest necessity – it is the Treasury’s burden to see off regulatory raids on the City of London – but he has taken to the work with surprising vigour."

But while discussion has focused on the potential costs and benefits for the Chancellor of taking on the Brussels behemoth, it's worth noting something else: Osborne would be the most hawkish Foreign Secretary in modern times. Alongside his fiscal conservatism and social liberalism, Osborne's neoconservatism forms the core of his political identity. With the exception of Michael Gove, there is no cabinet minister more committed to the doctrine of humanitarian intervention. 

In an article for the Spectator in 2004, he described himself as a "signed up, card-carrying Bush fan" and retains close ties with the US right. During a Commons debate on the Iraq war in 2003, he praised Labour MP Nigel Beard for making "an excellent neo-conservative case for the action that was taken". Again, with the exception of Gove, there was no greater champion of intervention in Syria. 

In another Spectator piece, "While England Sleeps", he wrote: "We did not choose the War on Terror it chose us. We could try to walk away from it now. We could distance ourselves from America, say the Iraq war was a mistake...But it would not save us. For remember the words of the Madrid bombers before they set out to kill 200 innocents on their way to work: 'We choose death while you choose life.' With people like that it can only be a case of them or us." 

As Foreign Secretary, Osborne would not determine Britain's foreign policy (that remains the responsibility of Cameron) but he would help to shape it. Rather than acting as a brake on intervention, as the realist William Hague often has, the Chancellor would be an accelerator. At a time when the electorate and an increasing number of MPs (of all parties) are resolutely isolationist, it is worth considering what Osborne's arrival at Kings Charles Street would mean for British foreign policy. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: will women bear the brunt again?

Time and time again, the Chancellor has chosen to balance the books on the backs of women. There's still hope for a better way. 

Today, the Chancellor, George Osborne, presents his Autumn Statement to parliament. Attention will be focused on how he tries to dig himself out of the tax credits hole that he got himself into with his hubristic summer budget.

He’s got options, both in terms of the sweeteners he can offer, and in how he finds the funds to pay for them. But what we will be looking for is a wholesale rethink from the chancellor that acknowledges something he’s shown total indifference to so far: the gender impact of his policy choices, which have hurt not helped women.

In every single budget and autumn statement under this Chancellor, it has been women that have lost out. From his very first so-called “emergency  budget” in 2010, when Yvette Cooper pointed out that women had been hit twice as hard as men, to his post-election budget this summer, the cumulative effects of his policy announcements are that women have borne a staggering 85 per cent of cuts to tax credits and benefits. Working mums in particular have taken much of the pain.

We don’t think this is an accident. It reflects the old-fashioned Tory world view, where dad goes out to work to provide for the family, and mum looks after the kids, while supplementing the family income with some modest part-time work of her own. The fact that most families don’t live like that is overlooked: it doesn’t fit the narrative. But it’s led to a set of policies that are exceptionally damaging for gender equality.

Take the married couple’s tax break – 80 per cent of the benefit of that goes to men. The universal credit, designed in such a way that it actively disincentivises second earners – usually the woman in the family. Cuts and freezes to benefits for children - the child tax credit two-child policy, cuts to child benefit – are cuts in benefits mostly paid to women. Cuts to working tax credit have hit lone parents particularly hard, the vast majority of whom are women.

None of these cuts has been adequately compensated by the increase in the personal tax threshold (many low paid women are below the threshold already), the extension of free childcare (coming in long after the cuts take effect) or the introduction of the so-called national living wage. Indeed, the IFS has said it’s ‘arithmetically impossible’ that they can do so. And at the same time, women’s work remains poorly remunerated, concentrated in low-pay sectors, more often part time, and increasingly unstable.

This is putting terrible pressure on women and families now, but it will also have long-term impact. We are proud that Labour lifted one million children out of poverty between 1997 and 2010. But under the Tories, child poverty has flat-lined in relative terms since 2011/12, while, shockingly, absolute child poverty has risen by 500,000, reflecting the damage that has been by the tax and benefits changes, especially to working families. Today, two thirds of children growing up poor do so in a working family. The cost to those children, the long-term scarring effect on them of growing up poor, and the long-term damage to our society, will be laid at the door of this chancellor.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the age spectrum, low-earning women who are financially stretched won’t have anything left over to save for their pension. More are falling out of auto-enrolment and face a bleak old age in poverty.

Now that the Chancellor has put his calculator away, we will discover when he has considered both about the impact and the consequences of his policies for women. But we have no great hopes he’ll do so. After all, this is the government that scrapped the equality impact assessments, saying they were simply a matter of ‘common sense’ – common sense that appears to elude the chancellor. In their place, we have a flaky ‘family test’ – but with women, mothers and children the big losers so far, there’s no sign he’s going to pass that one either.

That’s why we are putting the Chancellor on notice: we, like women across the country, will be listening very carefully to what you announce today, and will judge it by whether you are hurting not helping Britain’s families. The Prime Minister’s claims that he cares about equality are going to sound very hollow if it’s women who take the pain yet again.