For the good of the country, Osborne must go

It is time for David Cameron to cast off the godfather who has become a liability

Polling, like any other pseudo-science (psychotherapy, chiropractic, economics . . .), relies more on creativity and credulity than hard fact. In a poll, as in a court of law, all that matters is that you pose the right question to the right person and thereby ensure you receive the answer you have already written down.

Massaging a poll could not be easier. If your timing is right and you concoct one that confirms a newspaper's prejudices, then you can expect acres of coverage. So it was on 22 November that the dear, dead Obs ran four pages on a poll suggesting there might be a hung parliament (two more pages, incidentally, than it dedicated to the very real inauguration of Barack Obama). The story was followed up. And now the idea of the next parliament being hung like a pheasant has gone from barking to "highly plausible".

Which is most gratifying. First, it flushes out the counter-jumping Clegg. Between now and May, he will have denied that he will support a minority Brown government so often that even such a noted invertebrate will find it hard to go back on his word. The deal, if there is a deal, will be done on our terms: "We'll take Cable. The rest of you can go back to your constituencies to prepare for continuing irrelevance."

Second, it has stopped David talking about "the second term". Initially, when he kept banging on about 2015, I assumed he was talking about an album by one of those prog-rock bands he so loved before he was elected leader. Not a bit of it. My friend actually thinks he will win two consecutive elections.

This prospect becomes increasingly unlikely with every day that Osborne remains as his chancellor. Little George was advised, on more than one occasion physically, not to make his "row, row together" conference speech. Keep it bland, we told him. Instead, I Know Better Georgie rowed in with a piece of showboating which should ensure that the standing ovation he got that day was the last he will ever receive.

Arrayed against him now are Hague and Pickles and Johnson - all of them whispering madly in Dave's ear to jettison the godfather who has become a liability; all of them keen to see the anointed heir banished so they can move a step closer to ultimate power. And I, the other main godfather, keep my counsel. For the good of the party, and the country, Osborne must go. For the good of Dave, he must stay. It could not be more finely balanced.

Next week:Fran Reddington

This article first appeared in the 30 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Left Hanging