Smooth. Intelligent and articulate. A former finance minister. A European. And perhaps most importantly of all, a mildly irritating potential rival to the prime minister of his own country. In lots of ways, George Osborne ticks all the boxes to replace Christine Lagarde as the managing director of the IMF. Indeed, if you were looking for a perfect replica of the incumbent, minus the pearls and the elegant neck scarfs, you might well settle on the former chancellor.
The trouble is, while Osborne’s brand of centrist Conservatism might suit the Fund in easier times, what it needs now is radical change – and the editor of the Evening Standard has never shown much interest in that.
There is certainly a case to be made for a British MD of the IMF. The job is traditionally held by a European. Although it was largely created by a British economist – John Maynard Keynes – of its 11 managing directors, five have been French, along with a couple of Swedes, and one each from Belgium, Germany and Spain. We can certainly claim it is time we had a go.
Landing such as senior position in the global financial system for one of our own might well help our standing in the world as we leave the European Union, and of course if a no-deal Brexit turns out to be as bad as some of the wilder predictions claim, it might well be handy to have someone who can bung us a couple of trillion dollars until Thursday week. If we can get around to choosing a new prime minister, he should certainly press Britain’s claim.
But George Osborne? Although his star has faded somewhat, he remains an excellent politician, and the Conservative party has missed some of his skills since he left Parliament.
If he was still an MP, he would arguably have been a better candidate for leader than either of the two contestants, and whoever wins should certainly think about bringing him back into their government as foreign secretary.
But the IMF is something different. Keynes created it to bring stability to the global financial system, and specifically to stop the world sliding back into the economic chaos that made the Great Depression of the 1930s far worse than it needed to be. In the last two decades however, it has slipped into platitudes about climate change and women’s rights which, while perfectly worthwhile in themselves, don’t have anything to do with the Fund.
It needs radical change, and fresh agenda. Osborne has never shown any appetite for that. He would be perfectly competent at networking with the Davos set, but he has no real interest in economics, nor has he ever shown any desire to break with the reigning consensus. And that makes him the wrong person for the IMF. The UK should press for a British MD. But it can surely find a better candidate than the former chancellor, no matter how much he might want the job.