Monday, September 07, 2009

George's Dilemma

Fraser Nelson's political columns in the Spectator are normally very thought provoking, and this weeks's - his last as political editor - is no exception. He writes about the doubts the City reportedly has about George Osborne's economic credentials. The City are frustrated at the lack of detail from the Tories about how they will reduce public debt, he says. So they may be, but City financiers are notoriously adept at not being able to recognise harsh political realities. They will just have to wait a bit longer. David Cameron has already said that some of it will be provided at October's Manchester conference. Any political party which sets out its full manifesto nine months in advance of an election is asking for trouble.

But having read Fraser's article, I was left with one overwhelming thought: should George Osborne now make a very hard choice? Does he want to run the general election campaign or does he want to be Chancellor? Is it possible for him to do both properly?

Fraser writes...

Despite numerous charm offensives, Mr Osborne is still not winning them over. Financiers who attend his soirees grumble that it is all politics and no economics. When asked about economics, I am told, he becomes rather glum and evasive. But when asked about political strategy, his face lights up. There are no specific policies causing the City particular concern, but rather a general impression, which one hears repeatedly in the City, that the soon-to-be-chancellor has no expertise — and not even much interest — in the job he is about to inherit.

He is being damned on the flimsiest of grounds.

Exactly. But perception is as important as reality in these situations. If the economy was fine, you could quite reasonably argue that you could prepare for government and oversee all the election planning. But in these circumstances, it is more difficult.

Personally, I would like to see George remain in post as Shadow Chancellor, but make the difficult decision to leave election planning to Eric Pickles. For a political animal like George, it would be a huge wrench. But it would be a decision which would go down very well in the business community and the City.


Mark Reckons said...

Osborne does come across as a bit of a lightweight on the economy to me and I know I am not the only one who thinks that. He was unconvincing in some areas yesterday on Marr for example.

The question is, is Cameron ruthless enough to remove his close friend from the most important office of state before the next election?

I am led to understand that Osborne is good with back-room strategy. In this respect he sounds a bit like Mandelson. Cameron would do well to heed the advice coming from some quarters that he should move Osborne. I think Phillip Hammond, his current deputy is a much stronger candidate for Chancellor personally.

Ian said...

Or better yet, why not leave Osborne to do the election planning and bring someone like John Redwood into Shadow Chancellor. I've never been convinced Osborne is a good Shadow Chancellor, much as we all now know that Obama Beach spent far too long politicking rather than being Chancellor, and he is only there because Cameron wants Osborne to be visible. He's most certianly not there solely because he'll be a good Chancellor.

Anonymous said...

Right analysis. Wrong conclusion. George is not, and never will be, a Chancellor.

DespairingLiberal said...

I assume all this is some sort of complicated Tory-speak for "he's useless"?

Point-scoring aside, I've always thought Osborne was above his level as Shadow Chancellor - he never comes across with any weight of authority. That said, given that his opponent is the incipid, evasive Darling, it does make you wonder how much calibre you actually need. Just slightly more than Poor Georgy evidently. Just goes to show that old friendships are rarely a good basis for choosing people for top jobs - see Churchill, Winston and his wartime coterie or Wilson, Harold and his kitchen cabinet for similar cases in point.

Both Darling and the Tories will never, ever will address the real issue - what on earth is going to be done to stop the banks from simply returning to "business as usual" and running out of control with the taxpayers as backstop? Brown/Darling are obviously planning this return, as with the recent European conference where they campaigned against restrictions on bankers.

With our public debt spiralling to astronomical levels because of the casino Britain mentality, which politicians are we going to turn to? Frankly, none of the current lot appear to have a clue. The Tories are simply returning to knee-jerk Thatcherism, which frankly is what got us into this state in the beginning.

Note that cautious, derided Germany and France are already heading out of recession, whilst entrepreneurial, praised Bushite and Blairite US and Britain are diving further in.

Down with ZanuLab and the BBC said...

Codswallop. After reading that I was convinced Fraser Nelson was a Labour plant.

Eveyone I know who works in the city is impressed by Osborne and in particular his economic mind and passion for the job. On top of that, he's arguably the most gifted electoral strategist of his generation. He is set to be one of the great Chancellors.

Plato said...

From an ordinary voter perspective, I'd rather see Hammond as Chancellor and Osborne as Mr Election Strategy/post polling day campaigning.

This was the one thing that Tony did very well for a long time - he kept campaigning.

With the economy is a mess and many hard/unpopular choices ahead - more than anything the Tories need to keep winning people over again and again - otherwise they'll get lost in the weeds very quickly.

Letters From A Tory said...

I remember the hilarious news a few weeks back when Osborne told the City that he spent at least 30-40% of his time on economics. Of course, George thought this was hugely impressive - but the City employees were seriously unamused at how neglected they were.

Mind you, it's quite obvious that George's economic credentials aren't exactly first rate....

freedomscaresme said...

If there is a run on the banks would the Government print all the money required or would it let depositors lose out?

Do the Conservatives have a position?

Wapping Boy said...

It does annoy me when people rant on about Osbourne (or Cameron for that matter) having "no experience". What experience did Messrs Brown and Blair have when they took power in 1997? Admittedly their task involved little more than sucking eggs, given the golden economic conditions they inherited....

Roman said...

Apparently, one G Brown ran Labour's early elections whilst also being Shadow, and then for real, Chancellor.

And, God help us, Labour were successful at winning elections. Mind you, I wouldn't want to go any further with the comparison.

word verification: plight!!!

strapworld said...

But one of the most successful Chancellor's was Kenneth Clarke. Surely he is the right man for the job. He would and could take the tough choices.

Cameron does not have round pegs in round holes.
His team are just not resonating with the public and Cameron needs a shake up if he is to convince people he has the right team for tough times.

Boy George is still widely regarded, outside westminster, as extremely lightweight.

Apart from Gove (who talks and writes well, but still ignores the call for a return of Grammar Schools etc), Cameron has surrounded himself with an inner circle of, what ordinary people would call 'toffs'he needs fighters!

Why are David Davis, John Redwood, Malcolm Raffkind, Michael Howard and so many more languishing on the back benches, when people would have confidence that those people WOULD do a great job.

I am afraid that Cameron is in real danger of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. He just cannot go on believing that he will be elected because he is not Gordon Brown.

People and newspaper editorials are calling for some proof that he is up to the job. That he is a leader and can make tough choices and to tell the people just what he stands for.

I, for one, want to hear
fromhim an unequivocal
policy statement on the EU. If the Lisbon Treaty is ratified AND iF IT IS NOT. What are his firm intentions. Stop playing the people as fools.

I would starttoday by appointing Kenneth Clarke Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer with John Redwood as his number two. Making George Osborne the General Election overlord.

I would also put Patrick Mercer as shadow Secretary of State for Defence and Dr.Liam Fox Shadow Health Secretary. and a surprising choice but one that would work really well, Geoffrey Cox as Shadow Home Secretary.

We want politicians that will take on Labour and really make a difference. Not the cowardly approach seemingly adopted by David Cameron.

Time for action. IF you want to win.

sobers said...

The Tories need to be totally honest now. Tell the truth about spending cuts and tax rises. WE all know they are coming, but if the Tories fudge telling the masses, they will get the blame when they happen. If they are up front they may have a smaller majority, but will have a strong mandate to take the neccessary action.

One way or another the cuts and tax rises are coming, either voluntarily by the next govt, or forced by a funding/currency crisis. Better to be honest about it. Pain now, gain later.

Demetrius said...

The troubles we have had recently suggest that the financiers and bankers had very little understanding of economics. That Osborne, or anyone else, looking into the period 2010-2015 might be a bit cagey in placing his bets as the form book has gone out of the window, and the horses have no track record is understandable. So pots calling kettles?

John said...

The one person that the public know and trust is Kenneth Clarke He should be moved to Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. In some eyes Hammond may be better, but it is all about winning this election.
We are 14% in front on the polls, and we do not need to say what we are going to do about the Lisbon Treaty till we know if it will be in place or not, how many extra votes is it going to bring in if Cameron says now what he is going to do? Ukip are going to have to wait, as the rest of the country are not getting up tight about it.
Remember goverments lose elections, and Labour are doing a good job at that.

David from Ealing said...

Keep him as Shadow Chancellor. That will help the other parties.

True Belle said...

Oh no , are cads and bounders really all we can hope for?

Please , where is noisy Ken Clarke, I want to hear more of his brisk familiar voice. And anyone someone who doesn't cry to their 'nanny'!

Anonymous said...

strapworld said...
But one of the most successful Chancellor's was Kenneth Clarke. Surely he is the right man for the job. He would and could take the tough choices.

It's called 'clout'. Something Osborne is lacking in spades.

Oh, and he's got shifty eyes - 'dodgy mincers' in my parlance!

Alex said...

Boy George is out of his depth, doesn't understand numbers.
Redwood is out of touch with reality, too many crazy ideas to be practical.
Clarke got lucky last time with the economy, not convinced that he is hands on enough with enough energy to drive down public sector costs.
Letwin - loser, period.
Hammond, plodding but sensible, good Chief Sec to the Treasury but not Chancellor material, but the best of the bunch.

Sad really, because the blue team is supposed to be the strongest on the economy. I suppose they are, but that is only relative to the other parties. I have 500 names in my Rolodex who would make a better Chancellor than any of the above. No make that 2,000.

Peter said...

Osbourne doesn't know, any more than anybody else, just how much he will have to cut spending and raise taxes.

The recession may continue, our credit rating may be reduced, he may even have to call in the IMF.

He has no option but to keep things woolly.

neil craig said...

Just say "read my lips - no new taxes".

Any tax increases would make no economic sense so that IS a responsible promise. How it is done can be put off "till we see the accounts" & the other parties are then left with either, unbelievably, matching the promise & thus having to explain that question themselves or going into the election promising higher taxes.

I must admit I am not impressed by Osbornethough that may be because, until in power, he simply has no authority.

Anonymous said...

Osborne has the Shadow Chancellorship because of his relationship with, and long standing ties to, Cameron, not because of any proven talent, knowledge or skill in that policy area. As such he is the wrong man for the job, as is becoming very apparent to the very people he needs to impress on that level. Ergo he should stick with the election planning and stand aside from the Chancellorship to let someone who does have the necessary skill set and experience take it on at this vital juncture for our nation's economy.

However under Cameron's leadership, where all decisions seem to be made for the wrong reasons, such a sensible and desirable outcome is unlikely.

Ed the Shred said...

I'm curious as to why Fraser Nelson has chosen now to take such a swipe at George. I was under the impression that Fraser was a close friend, dinner companion etc of George and Dave. Certainly I've always read Fraser's columns in that light, typically Fraser has telegraphed in advance some of the 'frontier' thinking that Dave and his mates are having. So I wonder what the back story is on Fraser's last column. Maybe Dave is preparing the ground for a move of George?

But on the more substantive issue of how the huge indebtedness this country now has will be dealt with. I think that it is infantile of the Tories to keep dodging this issue by mouthing such platitudes such as "culture of financial discipline". Of course that is self evidently true, however what the Tories need to do is very clearly set out how this country needs to be restructured on a fundamental basis where the wealth creators are allowed to create wealth and not constantly being sat upon by the State. Similarly the Tories need to urgently and clearly manage people's expectations (downwards) of what the State is able to do for them. It is simply no good to just say that waste will be cut, the whole trajectory this country is on needs to be changed.

None of this implies that the Tories have to be specific on what is actually 'cut' (as Jackie Ashley's husband keeps harping on about), a clear and credible vision needs to be presented, the detail comes later.

Scary Biscuits said...

I agree with most of the other trolls: Osborne would make a rubbish Chancellor and he should stick with what he's good at, political positioning. Asking him to go full time at the Treasury or even shadowing it would be to waste his skills and upset the City still further.

If we really wanted change, we should also be thinking about the role of the Treasure. Osborne is being given it because it is the most important post after PM. But should it be? Should we stick with the constitutional innovation that Brown made the Tresury not just the revenue department but a soft of parallel Cabinet Office, responsible for overseeing all the other departments and telling them what they can and can't have money for. Or should we return it to how it was before? If we are serious about saving money it has to be the latter. Thus, the Treasury will return to being less important, less trying to run every other department through performance metrics, and perhaps not only will George's talents will be better used elsewhere but his ego happier in another department.

Johnny Norfolk said...

The next Chancelor should be John Redwood. That would drop a bomb on them all as that is what is needed.

Purple Man said...

Cameron wants Osborne with as many fingers in pies as possible, as he is a hardcore, true blue Cameroon.

Iain, there are actually far less of them knocking about on the Commons benches than you seem think. Multi-tasking is a safe assurance for the very tribal Cameron that there is no one there to upset the applecart or gain undue influence.

Someone like Redwood in a prominant position under him would simply not be trusted, that is the Cameroon culture right now.

trevorsden said...


These are the same 'financiers' which led us into the credit crunch.

Basically Mr Dale this story is bollocks. Osborne will make a good chancellor. But since when do 'financiers' have a good record? They thought Brown was good - thats how far we should trust their judgement.
Its not that long ago I read stories of the Tories going to bring in cuts and reforms in the way Canada cut 20% from its budget and maintained services.

May I remind your readers of the battle of Malplaquet in 1709 fought not quite 300 years ago.

As the British advanced they stopped and invited the French to fire. The French refused and ased the Britich to fire. No you first the british said.
The British advanced and then invited the French to fire again. At last the French fired but very ineffectively at the range. The British advanced whilst the French reloaded and when the commander stuck his sword into the barricades the British delivered a devastating volley at point blank range.

I suggest Tory supporters and 'financiers' do not worry too much that the Tories are not firing off policies whilst out of range.

We should not that its labour firing blanks.

trevorsden said...


An article in The Times says that 'whatever else you think of him Brown has always been good at macro economics'

What an absolute joke. Brown who at a macro stroke ruined pensions and his other macro stroke? -- well the TV adverts are full of offers to buy our gold as it is at such a high price.

Ian said...


"given that his opponent is the incipid, evasive Darling"

I feel you're doing Darling a slight disservice. Sure, he's a little shifty, as mosts politicians are, but he's was landed with possibly the worst economy any chancellor will ever inherit.

If he was a chancellor of an incoming party he could get away with blaming the idiot who previously held the office for his irresponsible overspending in a boom. Unfortunately for him, that idiot is now his boss, which means he has to try to make decisions that reduce the deficit whilst not doing anything that makes it look like the previous guy was an arse (i.e. he doesn't have the option of cutting swathes of wasteful spending because it would show that Gordon is a moron).

I do feel sorry for him. To inherit a complete mess and to not be allowed to show that the previous guy was a berk is hideously unfair, especially for a man with such glorious eyebrows.

Anonymous said...

It would make so much sense if Hammond became chancellor whilst all the heavy lifting needs doing. I like Osborne but he is not politically mature enough to be chancellor in these very difficult times. He would be better suited as party chairman/strategist. However since the Mandelson episode pride will prevent him from doing what is best for the party.

tory boys never grow up said...

Even if George were to engage with economics it might be the case that he should be taking on the City rather than trying to please them? Perhaps City financiers have problems with both political and economic realities?

What would the Tories do about bonuses, what would they do about financial regulation, how do they see the division of responsibilities between the State/prudential supervison/market supervision (or would they hand it all to the Bank of England), what is their view as to when and how government deficits should be reduced, what is their view as to the balance between tax rises/expenditure cuts, would they relax minimum pay legislation, what are their priorities on taxation/expenditure etc, etc???

No one expects the full manifesto nine months before the election but never in recent history has a major party ever been so vague about its economic policies 9 months before a general election. BTW I somehow doubt whether the Manifesto will add much clarity.

Even dyed in the wool Tory fanatics such as Mr Dale will have to admit that there was rather more clarity about the Tory's economic policies 9 months before the 1979 election. We perhaps should remember that Cameron's economic experience is largely confined to flapping around on Lamont's team during Balck Wednesday so the present lack of clarity on all matters economic is only to be expected.

Stepney said...

Time and time and time again. How often does it need explaining you numpties?

If the Conservatives made their policies public Labour would have them printed in their manifesto before teatime.

It's happened countless times before (think Inheritance Tax), which is why the Cameroons have played their cards so close to their chest. They will continue to do so until they see the whites of Labour's eyes ie when the ink is dry on the Labour Party manifesto (can't want for that y the way - half a paragraph would do ie Wait for something to turn up and react. by announcing an old initiative.)

Anything other than that and Labour will just nick it.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness I'm not alone in thinking George Osborne is somewhat lightweight and would not make a good chancellor. Ken Clark would be a far better choice.

Gary Elsby said...

The doubts the City have...?

What about our doubts?

What about the doubts of the IMF, CBI, EU, UN, MFI, Co-op, CCHQ, LPHQ,BoE,Liverpool,Colonel Gaddafi, Russia, The Internantional Space Station, Total Politics, Private Eye, London, Bob Crow, people of Tatton, Crewe, Macclesfield, HMQ, Ford open prison (in waiting),Putin,People's republic of China,peace process in Ireland, John Major, Maggie,Ronald Biggs (and his accountant)...

There are many people concerned with Giddy's credentials but not his entertainment values.

Martin said...

The Tories should do a re-shuffle and bring Ken clarke in as Chancellor.

strapworld said...

I see Trevors Den is back wearing his rose tinted spectacles.

I asked him to give me evidence that Cameron has true tory policies. He has never replied.

Now he tells us, from his pulpit, that "Basically Mr Dale this story is bollocks. Osborne will make a good chancellor".

I ask him, now, to identify for me just what is the criteria for a 'good chancellor' and explain just what Boy George has over Ken Clarke?
Evidence please!

Cicero said...

The problem is that Osborne IS a bit of a lightweight, and you just can't walk away from it. Also there is the little question of his manner: too many think that he is arrogant as well as being out of his depth. Phillip Hammond is so much more au fait- Osborne just doesn't gel.
A very obvious Conservative weak link, yet for reasons of personal loyalty, Cameron doesn't want to move him, but unless he does, the Conservative attacks on the government economic failure are sderiously blunted.

Ted said...

Has nobody mentioned Hague? A fighter enough, a Commons performer and a high public recognition. Wasted shadowing the FO - utterly self indulgent for him to be there. Clearly the no. 2 man in the party, let him be in the no. 2 job. And plenty of people - Rifkind, Howard, etc - who could do the easy statesmanlike act making Miliband look like the out of place child he is.

judith said...

I do wonder about the political knowledge of some of the previous commenters on this thread.

I'm a fan of Michael Howard, have been for a long time, BUT HE'S LEAVING PARLIAMENT AT THE NEXT ELECTION!!!!

John Redwood has refused a Front Bench position for the time being for personal reasons.

Ken Clarke is a huge reminder of the Major years/fiasco, ditto Rifkind (not Raffkind!), so thanks, but no thanks.

DespairingLiberal said...

What a ripping idea Ted. Fresh from allying with neo-Nazis across Europe, Von Hague can now address the economy with zose last few precious Tiger Tanks! Yawohl!

It's all wierdly reminiscent of when Hitler put Himmler in charge of the Eastern Front. He lasted 3 days of issuing mad orders before resorting to a sanitorium for the incurably cowardly.

The sad truth is that the Tories have no Magic Chancellor waiting in the wings. Under Cameron, we will get more Blarism - liberal markets for Hedge funders, no real controls on the casinos, er, I mean retail banks and no restraint on the madness of the markets.

The really really pernicious thing is that the lack of government intervention at the top of banks other than a generalised contradictory instruction to cut leverage whilst lending more means that the banks are focusing on reducing lending to the small guy - small businesses and individual consumers - whilst continuing all the old bad practises such as massive dealing in funny farm instruments.

From the Tories, not one useful word on the above.

Unsworth said...

Given that whoever may be doing the election planning will, inevitably, be spending some time with the party activists and the media, I think Pickles should do the job.

Osborne is not telegenic and has little obvious charm. He may be an economic genius, though. After all, Brown is/was supposed to be an economic expert, too. Maybe that's how these people are - not telegenic and with little obvious charm, but then are they economic experts either?