George Osborne has been exposed to a fair amount of public scrutiny since 2005, when he was appointed to the role of Shadow Chancellor by Michael Howard. Since the beginning of 2015 however, we have seen the Chancellor take on even more public responsibility. Osborne, who at the start of the 2010-2015 Parliament was regarded as a silent axe man, now seems to dominate the Conservative news cycle. The explanation for this change is relatively simple. Before the election, David Cameron categorically stated that he would not stand for a third election as Prime Minister. Cameron’s actions since that declaration have made it obvious that Osborne is his chosen successor. While Cameron is unlikely to back Osborne outright, as not to cause controversy within the Cabinet, it has been quite clear that the Prime Minister is willing for the Chancellor to succeed him.
Following a triumphant general election victory this May, George Osborne was reappointed as Chancellor, but also handed the title of First Secretary of State – a role held by William Hague under the last government. This can be viewed as a strong vote of confidence in Osborne’s stewardship of the economy. Giving Osborne this coveted, albeit ceremonial title suggests that the Prime Minister trusts the Chancellor to perform the duties of the Prime Minister in the House of Commons if he is unable to attend.
On the 17th June 2015, George Osborne rose in the House of Commons to answer questions on behalf of the Prime Minister at PMQs, while David Cameron was in Europe starting the re-negotiation process on the EU. The Chancellor held the floor in a similar manner to the Prime Minister. This was a crucial display of Osborne's ability to dictate the tempo of debate in the House. Osborne has played a key role in helping to brief the Prime Minister for PMQs over the past five years, so he is well accustomed to its demands.
Last week’s Budget was also no doubt the start of a defining period in Osborne’s political career. As many have concluded, Osborne will continue with his ‘Long Term Economic Plan’, through public spending cuts and low taxation. The Chancellor’s commitment to a £9 Living Wage by 2020 shows his desire to make work pay. Moreover, cuts to benefits and changes to child benefit payments in particular show that Osborne is trying to incentivise work once again. Removing JSA from those under the age of 21 is a vital measure to prevent a culture of dependency spreading in Britain. This Budget was the start of Osborne’s rise to power, through solid Conservative credentials.
The next five years will be crucial for George Osborne. The Chancellor has received the theoretical backing of David Cameron. Now, he must win over a party that will most probably be divided by a European referendum. He must also keep the economy growing in order to preserve his credibility. Vitally, Osborne must ensure that he outperforms Chris Leslie and anyone who may succeed the incumbent Shadow Chancellor following the Labour leadership election.
During the past five years, we have seen a dramatic change in George Osborne as a political figure – from silent axe man to the enigmatic Chancellor who revived Britain’s failing economy. But the biggest test will be the next five years, especially given the current economic insecurity in the Eurozone. This Parliament will be decisive to the future prospects of the Prime Minister's Apprentice.