Fraser Nelson, the ultra-young new editor of the Spectator, wastes no time in making his mark. In what will presumably be one of his last articles as political editor, he makes a bid to become Mandy’s new best friend:
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. A senior financier told me over lunch last month that he lost faith in the shadow chancellor when he found that Osborne had reviewed a book about the Nixon presidency for The Spectator in August last year. It was a fine review — and this was the problem. It suggested that in the first summer of the financial crisis, Mr Osborne had his head buried in an 880-page book about American political history instead of finding out about the financial world which was collapsing around him.
Having dealt with Osborne the man, Nelson then moves onto policy and demonstrates that the Tories are simply not ready for government:
Philip Hammond, to whom Mr Osborne intends to devolve many of the responsibilities of chancellor, is quietly holding a spending review (although he has told aides not to call it that, in case word leaks to the press). But the process is in its early stages. There is hope that the economy will recover more strongly than expected, that the analysts who all failed to predict the crash may also be missing the strength of the coming upturn. The forecasts change every month, runs the argument, so why come up with a plan now?
It would not, however, hurt to draw up a worst-case scenario. Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, has been doing just this — working out just what Britain might do if forced into cuts of 20 per cent, as Canada was during its fiscal blow-up. And what is unnerving the City is the feeling that Mr Osborne is so focused on the election (he is also the official campaign co-ordinator) that he has not reconciled himself to the harsher truths about his dismal inheritance. If he does not start planning soon, the City frets, his first Budget will do no more than another Labour one would to reduce the deficit.
Fraser Nelson is entitled to say what he wants and will no doubt will continue to do so. However, the so called ‘house journal’ of the Tory party has scored Cameron an own goal by sending small packets of live ammunition to Mandy for him to throw straight back at Osborne.
Months away from the election, we have evidence that Osborne is not focused on being Chancellor and the policies do not pass the ‘here is something I prepared earlier” test.
Yes, the priority for the Tories is to win the election and they do not need detailed plans. However, they do need a strategy for power otherwise they will be overtaken by events.
More importantly, Cameron has to resolve the George Osborne issue. As discussed, and whatever the motives, Mandy will attack him relentlessly in the run up to the election in the hope he cracks, leaving Cameron very exposed. If Nelson’s evidence is correct, then Mandy's judgement is spot on.