If the next Tory leadership election is a marathon, George Osborne fell down at mile six with that 2012 Budget. Most of those watching assumed that was the end of him. But Osborne got up, dusted himself down and started making his way back through the pack.
Today’s speech showed that Osborne thinks he’s now back in that race. It was littered with the personal pronoun. It included a tribute to his parents who founded what Osborne called a small manufacturing company’ which the rest of us call Osborne and Little, the up-market wallpaper merchants beloved of the interior designing classes. It also showed off his acid sense of humour, there were a slew of jokes at the Miliband brothers’ expense.
Now, Osborne’s many rivals in the parties will dismiss the idea of him running for leader as preposterous. They’ll point to the fact he’s barely an asterisk in Conservative Home’s next leader poll, scoring a mere 2%.
But he does have the most developed parliamentary network of anyone in the Tory party, an impressive backroom staff and ministerial allies in pretty much every government department. If, and these are two massive ifs, the economy continues to recover and the Tories win the next election, he can brand himself as the pilot who weathered the storm. (If the Tories lose the next election, that’ll be the end of Osborne as he and Cameron are so inextricably linked)
Osborne wants, and needs for his future leadership ambitions, to be the architect of that election victory. His pledges that the next Tory government would run an absolute budget surplus and his reiteration that his plan doesn’t require any more taxes are designed to set the Tories up for a classic centre-right election campaign, warning of rising mortgage rates and a tax bombshell if the other side wins.
But many Tory MPs in marginal seats are most worried about the cost of living. Osborne responded to that by arguing that only a recovering economy could raise living standards. But he did give theses MPs a more doorstep ready message with his commitment to freeze fuel duty for the rest of the parliament. Expect to see more of this kind of thing as the Tories try to use tax cuts to counter Miliband’s populist pledges on the cost of living.Tags: Conservative conference 2013, George Osborne, UK politics