Amidst all the hoo-hah about the EU Referendum it is sometimes difficult to get a handle on ‘normal politics’ or indeed the wider picture. Never mind the travails of the Labour party in opposition with its new leader, one of the biggest side-shows in town is trying to establish what exactly is going on with the Tory Party in the wake of the mess that David Cameron has got himself into with his EU renegotiation and now the referendum which – whether he likes it or not – is going to define his Premiership.
Cameron got himself in a right pickle in the run-up to the General Election last May by announcing in advance that, like the man trying to eat three Weetabix, he wasn’t going to outstay his welcome by standing for a third time as Premier (and some might say he’s already done that by already having done eleven years in the post of Tory leader).
Ergo, there’s going to be a new Tory leader at some point before 2020 when the next General Election is due. Cameron is probably going to have to go at the latest sometime in mid-2018 for that to happen, in the sense he’s got to give his successor time to bed in and establish himself, or indeed herself, in the public’s eye as a potential Prime Minister going into the next General Election.
Who are the candidates?
Well, the unknown factor of course is Boris.
For reasons best known to himself, he’s decided to come out of the woods on the EU Referendum – probably the biggest single issue of contention within the Tory party over the last thirty years – and put clear blue water between himself and the Tory ‘establishment’ since 2005.
It’s either a masterstroke or hari-kiri for his chances of becoming Premier.
Most likely he figured that the EU was the one issue around which the diehard Tory activist vote in the shires could rally in a protest at the way it’s been taken for granted over the years – and, as even the Labour party now knows to its cost, those in power always tend to get complacent and dismissive towards their core supporters as they get used to and then revel in the trappings of office. My hunch is that part of Boris’s thinking in exactly that. After this length of time with the Cameroons in charge there’ll be a sizable rump of those eligible to vote for the new Tory leader who’ll simply want someone (anyone) other than a new leader who effectively amounts to ‘more of the same’.
Especially when, what with one thing and another (not least Macmillan’s “Events, dear boy, events …”) it could has to be said that Cameron’s Tory regime hasn’t exactly taken them to the Promised Land. And furthermore, it shows no reasonable prospect of getting there even in the next ten years.
I don’t see Boris becoming Prime Minister any time soon, either because the UK will vote to remain in the EU at the referendum or, even if it doesn’t, I just feel that the Tory party grandees already regard him as too big a risk (summary – a loose cannon and borderline joke).
It’s difficult to escape the impression that Osborne has been positioning himself to succeed Cameron since at least 2009.
The strategy as originally hatched was to project himself as an Iron Chancellor who would not only repair the damage that Gordon Brown has systematically done to the UK economy since 1997 (following in the footsteps, of course, of every Labour regime in history), but also rebuild it in the wake of the 2008 global financial crash – which thank goodness had occurred on their watch rather than the Tories’ – and then bathe in the glory and grateful thanks of a nation which at one time thought it was going to the wall.
The added bonus in all the above for Osborne was that – if, as he correctly predicted, harsh measures (drastically cutting public expenditure being the foremost) were the best or indeed only way to get things back on an even keel – giving the electorate its harsh medicine right at the outset was something of a win-win. Firstly, they were expecting it. And yes, it was going to be tough, but however hard it was going to be, it not only got them used to tough things but also softened them up if further though things were required as a result of the policies not working, or if unforeseen events came along that knocked the original game plan schedule off course a notch or two.
If either of those things happened, our esteemed Tory Chancellor would still have ample time to rid himself of the ‘Nasty George’ tag he’d probably acquired by then because – as the bright sunny hills of a future Tory Promised Land eventually hove into view on the horizon – he could always open the floodgates and dish out £100,000 per annum salaries, Lamborghinis, season tickets to the Arsenal and mandatory annual month-long holidays in Tuscany villas to all of us to ensure we voted the right way when his time to ascend the crown arrived.
Er, that was the plan anyway.
The trouble is that at the moment the current Tory Government is bumbling along, making as many cock-ups as it delivers successes … just like every government of every political persuasion always does.
George’s other big problem is his personal image. If Cameron is the epitome of the rosy-cheeked transparent toff Eton-educated version of Flashman who wears his heart and his prejudices on his sleeve, then George is something a deal more sinister. He’s hewn from exactly the same rock, but he’s reserved, cold, aloof and altogether more calculating. Certainly not the sort of man you’d agree to meet up with for a drink down the pub – partly because he wouldn’t know how to find one, even if you gave him both the address and GPS coordinates, and that’s probably because he’s never actually been to one.
My gut feeling is that Mr Osborne will also never make it as far as the leadership of the Tory party because, as far as voting-friendly quotient goes, he’s actually toxic.
And then, of course, events have the annoying habit of getting in the way and affecting things in a way that upsets the smartest-devised apple carts.
Here’s one that could be coming home to roost – as reported on today by Mark Leftly on the website of – THE INDEPENDENT