I am no psychologist but I don’t think you have to be one to appreciate that there is some turmoil going on in the mind of the man who wrote the Evening Standard’s four front page headlines today. ‘May Hung Out to Dry’, ‘May’s Right Royal Mess’, ‘May’s Irish Bailout’, ‘Queen of Denial’ – these headlines have been presented by many today as a sign of a man enjoying himself, of revelling in schadenfreude. True, none of these headlines is exactly unfair, but the obsessive search for ever more painful ways of twisting the knife into the Prime Minister is surely indicative of something going on deep in the soul of the author. May is not the only person who made a bum decision a few weeks ago and is now left bitterly regretting it – the same is true of George Osborne himself.
Had the former Chancellor not been tempted to make a sudden career change into journalism, and then forced into surrendering his seat in the Commons after protests that it was wrong for him to draw an MPs’ salary while working full-time editing a newspaper, he would now be in pole position to take over from the fatally-wounded May. He would have had the ministerial experience to take over in an emergency. He would have been unsullied by any role in Mrs May’s brief and tragic premiership. He would have had the right attitude towards Brexit which will now be needed to build the necessary cross-party consensus on negotiations with the EU. Moreover, the Commons is still stuffed with the MPs whom he spent grooming as supporters for his planned run for the top job, scheduled for what should have been David Cameron’s retirement in 2018 or 2019.
But instead he blew his chance. His old seat of Tatton is now occupied by someone else and he finds himself beached at the Evening Standard, gasping at what might have been. It isn’t just him who finds himself inconveniently stranded outside the Commons. The tragedy for the Conservatives is that the other ideal candidate for PM, Ruth Davidson, similarly finds herself excluded from the job. But then she has plenty of time to move into Westminster politics, while Osborne’s chance should have been now.
A few weeks ago, with May seemingly set for a huge majority and implanted in Downing Street for five years or so, Osborne must have seemed a bit bored on the back benches. How he must wish he was going back to them next Tuesday.