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22 June 2023updated 12 Oct 2023 11:23am

Is Rupert Harrison the future of the Conservative Party?

The selection of George Osborne’s former chief of staff as a Conservative candidate is a boost to liberal Tories.

By Freddie Hayward

George Osborne’s influence lives on. From his sanitised, sensible takes on Andrew Neil’s Channel 4 politics show each week, to the devastating effects austerity had on our pandemic response. Now, someone once hailed as his protégé and possible successor is entering the parliamentary fray. Rupert Harrison has been selected as the Conservative candidate for the newly created constituency of Bicester and Woodstock.

The former Eton head boy banked a PhD in economics before becoming Osborne’s chief of staff from 2006 until 2015, after which he cashed in at the investment firm BlackRock. His former boss would eventually follow him there in 2017. He has since pivoted back towards politics: last year, Jeremy Hunt appointed Harrison to his economic advisory council. If Harrison does win the seat, he will become an immediate authority in the forthcoming battle over what the Conservative Party stands for. So what does he believe?

Thankfully, the New Statesman has secured a recording of his selection hearing in front of the North Oxfordshire Conservative Association. A careful, articulate Harrison took shelter in those “core conservative values of personal responsibility, private enterprise, family and community”, and described himself as a “liberal Conservative”.

His comments on the housing crisis place him on the nimby side of the house-building debate. He spoke with satisfaction about his role in establishing the Help to Buy scheme for first-time buyers, and is proud to have stoked demand for housing – but less keen on increasing supply. He artfully dodged a question over building on the green belt but said his “overall approach” to development in the high-demand Oxfordshire county “is to slow things down”. But he didn’t leave it there. Harrison went on to rail against putting solar panels on agricultural land, which he sees as a key dividing line with the Conservatives’ buoyant local contenders, the Liberal Democrats.

“The upshot,” one attendee said, “is that whilst he is an arch-Cameronite, essentially the puppet master behind Osborne, and now puppeting Jeremy Hunt in the Treasury, he is, on the economics, by far and away the most impressive of any Tory candidate standing at the next election. So for the country’s sake it would be remiss not to select him.”

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Pushed on where he wants to be by the end of the next parliament – Conservative associations relish a cabinet-bound MP – Harrison said he was eyeing up being a minister in the Treasury or business department. If the Conservatives are re-elected, that is.

[See also: Austerity on trial]

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