An Osborne comeback might be unlikely, but it is needed

25 Oct 2017

It may have escaped the notice of the politically unaware, but George Osborne is not very happy.


The former Chancellor has more jobs than the word limit for this article will allow, and has been spared the shame of serving Theresa May. Yet, if his record as editor of the London Evening Standard is anything to go by, he is far from content. One need only glance at the present state of the Conservative Party, perhaps with the aid of very heavy sunglasses, to understand why.


In 2015, he ran an unexpectedly successful general election campaign that resulted in a Commons majority. Two highly stressful years later, and that majority is gone, our party left in a state of paralysis whilst Jeremy Corbyn skips ahead with the polls in his favour.


Theresa May, with the help of an increasingly incompetent and dysfunctional team, has shaken the Conservative Party from its bed of optimism and drowned it in disarray. And as punchy and entertaining as Standard editorials might be, Osborne needs to do more than just write about it.


Of course, no comeback would be possible without help, something Osborne will struggle to get. His supposed scaremongering during the EU referendum upset many amongst the widely pro-Leave Tory grassroots, and the frankness with which he has criticised Theresa May since leaving parliament has offended a number of old colleagues.


It is true that many Tory MPs disliked Osborne long before he set his eyes on revenge, his proudly liberal version of conservatism apparently too modern for some to comprehend, but having run more negative headlines about the Conservatives than he has Labour, he now finds himself with few friends.


I do not suppose joking that he would like to see the Prime Minister “chopped up in bags in my freezer” greatly benefits his prospects, either.


Yet the Conservative Party needs him. Gravely wounded by a disastrous snap election no one asked for, led by a powerless husk of a stateswoman, marred by infighting, and plagued by the intellectual deficiency of the likes of Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom, we are but one false step away from a Corbyn premiership.


That Jacob Rees-Mogg, Honourable Member for the Nineteenth Century, should emerge as a viable leadership contender speaks volumes about the direction of our party. Where once we pitched out tents in the centre ground, we now squat on the edges of right-wing lunacy. Surely a revival of Cameron’s modern, compassionate conservatism is needed. Who better to lead it than its old poster boy?


If one brushes away the bitter undertones, considerable wisdom can be found in Osborne’s vision.


Central to his gripe with his fellow Tories is their petulant, two-fingers-to-the-continent approach to Brexit. Osborne calls it “high-handed British arrogance”, the prospect of ‘no deal’, a hideously misguided option generated by an ideological hatred of Europe we both despise, and one he has dismissed most fervently. Given the immeasurable shock a ‘no deal’ Brexit is likely to inflict upon an already struggling economy, Osborne is right to advocate a softer alternative.


He has also acknowledged the Conservative Party’s growing problem with nationalism, the supposed “citizens of nowhere”, as Mrs May brands them, turned off by the party’s “retreat from international liberalism and globalisation”. One of Osborne’s greatest political strengths is his unashamedly internationalist outlook, his ardent appreciation of friends on the continent and beyond sure to chime with voters worried for Britain’s place in the world post-Brexit.


The former Chancellor even demonstrated some long-awaited humility by praising Gordon Brown for his response to the financial crisis, saying he did “what was necessary in a very difficult situation”. Whilst he might have maintained that Britain “wasn’t particularly well-prepared” for the crash, a basic truth, such an admission does speak well for Osborne’s character. Even Jeremy Corbyn had to bring it up at a recent session of Prime Minister’s Questions.


There has been some suggestion that, should he answer the prayers of we liberal types and seek a comeback, Osborne could lead an En Marche-style movement and return to the top as the UK’s answer to Emmanuel Macron. Some have proposed he lead a coalition of disaffected Labour moderates, Liberal Democrats and centre-left Conservatives to create the pro-EU “Democrats”. I’m of the opinion that Osborne should not risk his political future on either venture.


As he himself recently reminded his Tory critics, he would do no service to the party he has been “working for and promoting” for two decades by pretending that the government does not face “serious challenges”. Osborne is right to confront the Conservative Party on its many flaws, no matter how much Mrs May’s allies might scowl. His place is, and always will be, with us. As tempting as it might be to abandon what often feels like a sinking ship, there is always hope for a return to sanity.


It is sad, and somewhat ironic, that the very candidness which makes George Osborne such a worthy idol for the Conservative Party should be his biggest hurdle in returning to frontline politics. The offence has been caused. The party to which he has given so much, and offers more still, has deemed him a traitor.


As much as it might disappoint me, I do not think it likely that he will return to parliament at any point in the near future. Still, in keeping with the positivity of Cameronism, I shall remain hopeful.


Not since the days of Major has the Tory Party faced such internal strife. We limp our way from gaffe to disaster, while Labour stride by with a contented whistle of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn.’

George Osborne’s words may be harsh, but I urge my party to listen to them. If we’re to stand even the smallest chance of winning the next election, we must rediscover the optimism, liberalism and compassion we have lost under May.


For eleven years Osborne kept us on the good side of conservatism. If we’re lucky, he’ll one day be allowed to do so again.

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