Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
16 September 2016

George Osborne shows that he still wants to be prime minister

Theresa May was "the best person for the job of the candidates who put themselves forward," the former chancellor says. 

By George Eaton

Even had he remained in the Commons, David Cameron would never have spearheaded the defence of his political project. A former prime minister is constitutionally required to remain above the fray or be labelled “the incredible sulk” (as Ted Heath was). The alternative of self-censorship is similarly unattractive.

But the vanquished Cameroons have found a new leader: George Osborne. When he was sacked from the cabinet by Theresa May, some expected Osborne to retreat to a lucrative City career. But unlike Cameron (who he entered parliament with in 2001), the former Chancellor is going nowhere. 

Osborne has launched a new think-tank – Northern Powerhouse Partnership – devoted to the project that became his greatest political passion. May, he told the Today programme this morning, had a “bit of a wobble” (she pointedly referred to the need for a “proper industrial strategy” and avoided mentioning the phrase shortly after becoming PM). With May having since told MPs that she is “absolutely committed” to the project, Osborne’s new body is designed to ensure there is no backsliding. 

This was not the only point on which he rebuked May. Though he did not oppose the opening of new grammar schools, he declared that the “real focus” of reform should be “the academy programme transforming the comprehensive schools that most people in this country send their children to.” The “special share” taken by the government in Hinkley Point C would not, he said, “add any additional protection”. 

But Westminster’s Machiavelli has far greater ambitions than merely critiquing the government. He still, it appears, aspires to lead it. May was, Osborne said, “the best person for the job of the candidates who put themselves forward”. A certain former chancellor, he reminded us, had not. “I don’t want to write my memoirs because I don’t know how the story ends,” he mischievously observed. 

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Osborne is justly famed for his political escapology. After nearly losing his post in 2006 over the Oleg Deripaska affair, he prevented Gordon Brown calling an early election by pledging to cut inheritance tax. Having delivered the calamitous 2012 Budget (and been booed at the Paralympics), he helped the Tories secure a parliamentary majority and became the favourite to succeed David Cameron (a status he swiftly lost). 

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

Many concluded that Osborne long ago lost the last of his political nine lives. But aged just 45, the Chancellor has begun his quest to prove them wrong.