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22 May 2011

George Osborne backs Christine Lagarde for IMF

Chancellor delivers the final blow to Gordon Brown’s hopes.

By New Statesman

Chancellor George Osborne last night spelled out his backing for the French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, to take on the top job at the IMF after the resignation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Osborne said:

On the basis of merit, I believe Christine is the outstanding candidate for the IMF – and that’s why Britain will back her. She’s shown real international leadership as chair of the G20 finance ministers this year. She has also been a strong advocate for countries tackling high budget deficits and living within their means. We support her because she’s the best person for the job, but I also personally think it would be a very good thing to see the first female managing director of the IMF in its 60-year history.

The snub to the former prime minister Gordon Brown is implicit. Osborne puts emphasis on “merit”, and also the fact that Lagarde has been an advocate for countries living “within their means”. The latter point echoes the explicit criticism David Cameron made of Brown’s suitability for the job back in April, while Strauss-Kahn was still secure in the job. The Prime Minister said:

Above all, what matters is – is the person running the IMF someone who understands the dangers of excessive debt, excessive deficit? And it really must be someone who gets that rather than someone who says that they don’t see a problem.

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Vince Cable also undermined Brown’s chances for the job in comments last week when he said that “promoting national champions, whoever they are, probably isn’t the best way of dealing with this. The IMF is dealing with a major economic crisis in Europe. They need somebody very effective and respected. Particularly somebody who understands the internal problems of the eurozone.”

Meanwhile Brown, who recently visited South Africa to launch a high-level panel on education, said that his visit was not a “pitch for the job” at the IMF. Now that he has definitively lost the British government’s backing, however, there is little chance that the role will be his.