Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Osborne's Bad Time

After a pretty torrid couple of weeks, the tide is once again turning George Osborne's way, as both the tory website Conservative Home and a raft of the quality press start to defend him. ConHome ran an article yesterday defending the shadow Chancellor, while amongst other papers, the Times today has an article explaining the attacks on Osborne as part of a broader right-wing offensive against the Cameron leadership. It may be part of the explanation, although I also think there has been a belief on the part of New Labour that Osborne represents a weak link in the Tory grand strategy. His cavorting with millionaires did the party few PR favours, and he still looks too much like a rabbit caught in headlights when dealing with Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling, but it may be that the worst is over, and that his position is secure enough for him to concentrate on developing a coherent and winning opposition line on the economy.

2 comments:

consultant said...

You are grotesquely optimistic in evaluating the predicament Osborne and Cameron have found themselves in.

In a time of economic crisis they have completely failed the test of opposition. They have opposed Brown's fiscal stimulus package which has been supported by the leaders of the G20 nations, the Institute of Directors (one of the most Tory business organisations going), the CBI, the Unions and even members of their own party. They have done so without providing any credible, or even coherent, alternative course of action, and as shadow Chancellor the majority of blame for this must be placed at Osborne's door.

This slapdash approach to policy making has left them favouring cuts to public spending when the economy needs spending most and meanwhile they are also likely to oppose the unfunded tax cuts Brown is about to announce. If early 2009 sees Brown go to the country, Cameron will fight an election on twin promises of spending cuts and opposition to tax cuts. Rather him than me.

Brown has already lain the ground to counter the likely Tory claim that spending cuts can come through reduced government waste - in announcing a substantial cost-saving initiative in the public sector he has made sure he will be in a position to say that there isn't any waste left to cut.

This performance to date (coupled with the Corfu icing on the cake) has provided ammunition to Tories who opposed Cameron anyway, but is also beginning to provoke discontent among previously more neutral Tories. They're scared that Cameron and Osborne don't look like they're up to the task.

There are a couple of further points to add to this heady mix, that make their position even less secure.

The first is the opinion polls. Labour have been in power for over a decade and now the country is facing the greatest economic crisis since the 1930's. As Cameron and Osborne have repeatedly failed to pin the blame for this on Labour, their poll ratings have plummeted almost as fast as Brown's have rocketed. This is an unprescedented situation. Brown should not be performing like this in the polls given the state of the economy. Many Tories are demanding to know why.

Second there is the sense that it has been thrown away. The past year has seen the Tories jubilant, treating Cameron practically as prime minister-elect. Labour in contrast have been despondent. The recent reversal of fortunes has reinvigorated the Labour party to take the fight to the Tories, who for their own part are left asking where it all went wrong. Cameron and Osborne took the credit for their early success; I would expect they will have to take the blame now.

If Cameron cannot reverse this decline now he is doomed. But what he needs to do to reverse it is far from clear. He and Osborne seem to be pinning all their hopes on a 2010 election in which, with the economy comprehensively trashed and the case against Labour will be easier to make. But they need to start to consider how they would fight a campaign in 2009, and at the moment the outlook for them is not good.

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