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.