George Osborne was interviewed by Kath Viner, editor of The Guardian, this afternoon and offered some interesting thoughts on Jeremy Corbyn. The Tories have generally kept schtum about the rise of the new Labour leader, focusing instead on the message that he is a danger to Britain’s national/economic security. Echoing the thoughts of Labour’s Jon Cruddas, the Chancellor said Corbynmania is not about the man himself:
‘I don’t think it’s actually about personalities in this sense which is, you know, Jeremy Corbyn is not the cause of the Labour party’s problems, he is a symptom. He was elected by the great majority of Labour members — not just the new people who joined, not just the trade unionists but the members their constituency Labour parties. That party has decided to abandon the centre ground, head off to the fringes.’
‘He came to speak to a fringe meeting here yesterday — metaphorically he’s going to be at a fringe meeting for the next five years as far as I can see — and actually we therefore now have a huge responsibility to represent working people, to hold the centre ground of British politics and to define that centre ground around fiscal responsibility, progressive public service reform, a welfare system that supports people who want to work. These are out big challenges and we relish those challenges.’
On the topic of future Tory leaders Osborne dodged any talk of his candidacy, saying he is very dedicated to his current role and enjoying it, but suggested there will be at least one female candidate in the next Tory leadership contest:
‘I’m absolutely sure there will be great female leaders in our party in the future…when we get to a leadership contest in the Conservative party – there may have been several more in the Labour party by then — I’m sure there are going to be great female candidates as well.’
Viner asked the Chancellor whether he considers himself a feminist. ‘Actually I do’, he said ‘but not in the way that The Guardian might interpret it’. He went on to explain why:
‘I think the struggle for female equality has been one of the great struggles of the last 100 years or more and the Conservative party has actually played its part in that struggle – equal votes for women was brought in by a Conservative government — but is the job done? Not at all. There is still discrimination, there is still a gender pay gap, particularly for elder women, there are still stereotypes which too many girls feel they have to confirm to. So that remains one of the big challenges and one of the big injustices in our society. This society is not perfect, there’s lots that continues to need to be improved.’
Coming straight after Boris’s bombastic speech, Osborne’s performance was jovial and thoughtful — if more low key. The Chancellor said he enjoyed the Mayor of London’s conference address and hinted he’d be ‘very surprised’ if Boris wasn’t a part of David Cameron’s government after his mayoralty term is up. Naturally, Osborne wouldn’t be drawn into any talk of going head-to-head with Boris in a future leadership contest. As Isabel said on our podcast earlier, Osborne and Johnson are two clear different options for the Tories: safe and steady vs. exciting and unpredictable. Everything Osborne said at the fringe was controlled and measured, yet the crowd seemed to like it. But it again suggests he will have a harder time winning over the Tory hearts in the same way as the prince across the Thames.