Coffee House

Inside the mind of George Osborne’s newest adviser

30 November 2012

4:23 PM

30 November 2012

4:23 PM

Neil O’Brien’s appointment as a new special adviser for George Osborne has gone down very well in the Westminster bubble, partly because of the Policy Exchange director’s ability to look beyond that bubble. He has written a number of times for the Spectator, and as an insight into the man who will be advising the Chancellor, here are some of his key pieces:

In this week’s magazine, O’Brien points to the North’s growing detachment from Westminster, with ‘an almighty 83 per cent of northern voters’ believing that politicians do not understand the real world. He writes:

‘Westminster politicians have repeatedly promised to close the North-South gap, but failed because they ignored economic reality, and flushed our money away on stupid gimmicks. No wonder northern voters think politicians ignore them and don’t understand them. Unless we change direction, it’s going to become harder to refer honestly to ‘one nation’: because our country will steadily come apart.’


In April, he wrote a piece arguing that London’s separation from the rest of Britain is becoming more and more pronounced every year, and criticising the ‘Londonitis’ endemic among politicians, civil servants and journalists, saying:

‘Polls show that Britain’s political class has reached a new peak of unpopularity in recent weeks. People don’t believe politicians understand them anymore, and think they all live in ‘another world’. They may be right: London has become another country.’

For his views on Europe, it’s worth reading his 2005 piece ‘How Europe betrays the poor’, which was about the WTO meeting in Hong Kong that December:

‘The EU also hits poor countries with higher trade barriers than rich countries. On average, the world’s poorest countries (such as most of Africa) face an EU tariff on their exports of more than 5 per cent, while rich countries (like Japan) face a tax of less than 1.5 per cent. Malawi, with a per capita income of less than £100 a year, pays an average 12 per cent tax on its exports to the EU. Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland face a staggering tariff of more than 20 per cent.’

O’Brien has also appeared on our View from 22 podcast. In August, he debated GCSE results with Fraser, while in May, he discussed the Tories’ progress in the north of England.

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Show comments
  • Mr Drone

    It’s a London bubble, not a North/South divide. The clubby political & media class are held in contempt by most folk anchored in the real world. As my forebears in the North would say….”They know nowt!”

    • TomTom

      So true – read Ed Conway in Sunday Telegraph who now he works for Sky is making a programme showing what a disaster has been caused for the nation outside London something he never admitted while at Telegraph

  • Malfleur

    “‘Polls show that Britain’s political class has reached a new peak of
    unpopularity in recent weeks. People don’t believe politicians
    understand them anymore, and think they all live in ‘another world’.
    They may be right: London has become another country.’”

    Spectator, you read it all this first on your Coffee House Wall – your response: close the Wall…

  • 2trueblue

    The first line says it all. I am delighted that those in the ‘bubble’ think it is so good. The reality is the palace of Westminster has become a bubble with such a rarefied atmosphere that the rest of us are not party to. Politicians of all parties do not have a clue what is going on outside Westminster. They have a lifestyle that they have not earned, and do not pay for. They are cushioned from the reality of putting petrol in the car, how to pay the mortgage, heating bills, and just getting to and from work….. if you have a job.

    The expenses issue has not been sorted and whatever they think, it is a problem for people, especially now the rest of the country are finding they are less well off.

    MPs really have no idea what it means, and neither I expect do these advisers.

    How can you connect with what is going on when you do not have any idea how to pay your own way? Our MPs have become spoilt and indulged and have shown themselves unable to grasp the idea that they should pay their way.

    • ukipatanycost

      Too true. But the efficiency question also looms. If politicians need special advisers they patently aren’t up to the job themselves. Further, why aren’t the special advisers going into politics. Because they get paid even more than politicians. What a delightful world. The only place they could all get paid more is in Brussels. Expenses anyone?

      • 2trueblue

        Nothing wrong with getting expert advice, pretty stupid if you have a knowledge gap not to get some in! What they are talking about here is a perception of what will get us out to vote… not sure we should be paying for that. These guys are not doing our business. When did it start? Who sanctioned it?

        • ButcombeMan

          Most of the advisers are still wet behind the ears.

          They know nothing of the world and of life. They are an intellectual prop for political and intellectual inadequates.

          • TomTom

            So why doesn’t he Osborne ask Philip Davies or Graham Brady ?

    • Daniel Maris

      Bubblism is the new dogma.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    It’s embarrassing that you Speccie teenagers spend so much time on this underling tittle tattle. You should just text message each other this gossip, like all the young schoolgirls do, and be done with it.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Soon there will be no north-south divide as far as the tories go. Unfortunately for them, this will not be caused by a revival in the north.

    But wait, what if UKIP or anybody else ‘splits the right-wing vote’? Well, the tories do not want the right-wing vote, they are ashamed of it. it’s nasty. When the tories lose the 2015 election, they will cast around trying to blame, UKIP, the LDs, whovever. But the fact is, whatever happens to them will be the result of their own actions and inaction. Their destiny lies in their own hands. If they can’t see the writing on the wall right now and do something about it (other than wait for the recovery they have done nothing to bring about) they deserve what is coming. It won’t be any use blaming Rhoda or Noa or Colonel Mustard or ex-tory voter for not turning out for them and ‘letting labour in’.

  • TomTom

    This will have no effect. Osborne is a Northern MP in Neil Hamilton’s old seat and knows zilch. He could ask why Zeneca jobs look insecure not far from Tatton or why Hanson was allowed to destroy ICI so Zeneca ended up with the Swedes in charge and ICI the largest industrial corporation in the country was destroyed

    • telemachus

      ICI was finished and life moves on

      Astra Zeneca is now one of the worlds major pharmaceutical companies. It turns around, round about 12 billion pounds.

      They are a completely global company and we have around 50,000 employees worldwide run from Cheshire

      Are you mad?.

      • TomTom

        It is NOT run fron CHeshire. You Are Mad !

      • TomTom

        ICI was nit finished it was asset-stripped by Hanson and the UBS Banker who did the deal and was ICI Finance Director before destroying GEC – his name – John Mayo – Loughboro University and FCA…………Unite the Union and the GMB say 250 to 300 of the cuts will be at the
        firm’s site in Alderley Park………..The Alderley Park site is the company’s largest, employing about 3,000
        people……………“These are cutting edge jobs, Astra Zeneca must do everything possible
        to retain these highly skilled and specialised roles. The UK can not
        afford to lose these advanced, scientific skills.”……………AstraZeneca employs 61,000 people worldwide, with 8,000 on the payroll
        in the UK………………………Telemachus you are a complete and total IDIOT

        • telemachus

          Ask to where the profits are repatriated

          • TomTom

            I should have thought to a Dutch Mixer as is usual. You are truly dim if you think Companies feed taxable income into UK Jurisdiction. Is there any area in which you are competent Little Troll or are you just a Motor Mouth without any Knowledge ?

          • TomTom

            “David Brennan is to retire after six years at the helm of
            pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca as it announces a 38pc drop in first-quarter profits……..Tim Anderson, an analyst at Bernstein, told The Sunday Telegraph at the weekend that the company had little in the way of new products to rely on to boost its fortunes in the near future.

            “Astra has a mixed track record over many years and I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily because they went down a different path. I just don’t
            think they were aggressive enough in their investment and probably didn’t value trying to be cutting edge,” he said………” SO Little Troll they fire R&D staff because they are so successful……….No wonder you are in love with Gordon Brown…….do you buffoons breed together ?

  • John_Page

    North South divide? Richard North has a number of posts today setting out the problems in Rotherham. Ouch! Too hot for any politician to handle – or Spectator writer?