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Tuesday, February 26, 2013 

Osborne must go.

Once, it was fashionable to compare and contrast Blair and Brown with Cameron and Osborne.  While there isn't a story behind the latter's relationship to rival that of the deal/non-deal between TB-GB at Granita, Brown did eventually manage to become prime minister. His ambition may have been greater than his ability to do the job, but he got there, thanks in part to a parliamentary grouping incredibly short on other talent.  Once, there was talk of the pattern repeating, the chancellor replacing the prime minister.  No one thinks it's going to happen now.

This isn't just because as chancellor Osborne has been shown up as out of his depth, unwilling to listen to reason or to change tack as the economy continues to stagnate, although it is part of the story.  It's more that Osborne is a one-note politician. His default and only setting is pomposity, mixed with more than a dash of smarm. His voice is the always the one tone, not quite nasal but far too close to it for anyone to regard it as anything other than an annoyance. Nothing is ever his fault or responsibility, or too big to be swept under the carpet: we've heard hundreds of times how the deficit has fell by a quarter since the forming of the coalition, yet Osborne didn't think the double-dip recession was important enough to mention in his conference speech last year. His greatest achievement, the pledge of an inheritance tax cut that frit Gordon Brown into calling off his planned snap election, has now been abandoned to help pay for care for the elderly.  Rather than sharing the proceeds of growth, he continues to share out the blame for his failures without ever taking any for himself.

Regardless of what you think about Cameron, and I remain as bewildered as ever about his status as the Conservative party's main electoral asset (I could at least understand why Blair was so popular for so long, even if that was precisely why I so disliked him), he has a range. He can do righteous anger and unrighteous anger, he can be conciliatory, he can make sincere apologies for things he wasn't responsible for and he can fawn over royalty and autocrats with the very finest of the upper middle classes. He isn't as eloquent or as convincing as Tony Blair at his best, or come anywhere near to competing with the majesty of Bill Clinton and his uncanny ability to home in on an audience's collective erogenous zone, but on his day he's not bad.

Osborne by contrast always speaks in public as though he's delivering the budget, a strange thing to do when he doesn't have Tory backbenchers ready to cheer when required.  You get the feeling that if he were ever to address a room of orphans he'd tell them in the familiar style that their lack of parents was down to the last Labour government and that their only idea to replace them is to increase borrowing.  Just as his failure to engineer growth is blamed on the wider state of the world economy, the continuing recession in the Eurozone and the wrong kind of diamond jubilee, so yesterday saw him put the responsibility for the credit rating downgrade on everything other than the coalition's policies.  It didn't matter that the very first benchmark in the Tory manifesto at the last election by which his government could be judged was the keeping of the triple A rating, or that he had said before then that it would be a "humiliation" if we lost it, now we have it's irrelevant as gilts are at 10-year-lows and interest rates are still at 0.5%.  That interest rates are so low is a sign of the lack of growth is irrelevant.  All this was delivered as though it was a triumph, and nothing whatsoever to be embarrassed about.

It's true, as Chris says, that this is a failure that doesn't really matter.  The obvious point though is that you can't make such a fetish out of a policy as Osborne has and then pretend that it was meaningless all along, or indeed completely misrepresent Moody's main reason for the downgrade, that of the "continuing weakness in the UK's medium-term growth outlook".  All but needless to say, Osborne didn't so much as mention the need to go for growth in his statement to the Commons, but there were plenty of Tories ready to stand up and read the lines given to them by the whips blaming the last government for everything, the very same thing Osborne accused opposition MPs of doing.

(Incidentally it's worth noting that just one Lib Dem bothered to take part in the debate, and he had the gall to accuse Ed Balls of politically motivated antics, obviously forgetting last year's unhappy incident when Osborne accused Balls of allowing the banks to rig Libor, for which he failed to produce any evidence.)

Whatever Osborne's positive qualities once were, and supposedly his analytic mind was once highly valued, his utter lack of humility and inability to be anything other than a one-dimensional chancellor with one debunked idea is slowly but surely ensuring Conservative defeat come 2015.  David Cameron doesn't have either of the problems that Blair had each time he considered moving Brown from the Treasury; he's not succeeding and he doesn't have anything like the following in the party that Brown had and would have set out to sabotage everything from then on.  The only question ought to be who to replace Osborne with, and William Hague doesn't exactly strike as the best option.

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