Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Can Tories suppress calls for Osborne to go?

I wonder who Ridley Grove is. That is the pseudonym used by a London think-tanker who wants George Osborne to resign, because he is an electoral liability. In a great spot, LabourList noticed that his ConservativeHome post had been published - and quickly disappeared. They have helpfully republished it, for the record.

The economy is the number one issue in this election and Osborne is still a liability - behind Cable and Darling in all the polls. Cameron can't sack Osborne, but Osborne can resign. He could say that he is damaging the partys chances and has decided to put the country and party before his own personal ambition.

Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome explains what happened:

After his post appeared last week, however, I rang him and questioned whether it was a sensible thing to write. I worried that, this close to a vital election, it would be presented as a ConHome view by a journalist careless about the true author. He agreed to take the post down with a view to rewriting it. He since decided against doing so and the post has not been republished ...

Some will say I was wrong to ask Ridley to take his post down. Perhaps, perhaps. But there has to be a certain responsibility from a site like ConHome's so close to an election.

(Tim Montgomerie reports that he also, perhaps sensibly, changed a headline about the execution of the North Korean Finance Minister having initially offered the headline 'A warning to George Osborne': obviously a joke, and quite a funny one if taken in the spirit intended, but which somebody or other might have synthesised outrage about).

Still, there is little doubt that Osborne's future does remain the subject of a good deal of discussion in the party. David Cameron stated on the record that he would be prepared to sack him if it was the right thing to do. Even if a statement of the obvious, it may do little to discourage speculation.

And the somewhat less repressible Spectator editor Fraser Nelson began an amusing parlour game of "coalition reshuffles" in an entertaining Guardian column last week, and also suggested the Shadow Chancellor may fall short of getting to No 11 if the Tories win.

Any formal coalition would have to be made palatable to the grassroots of both parties, who will hate the idea. Cameron would have to prove he was being politically canny, inviting Lib Dems into areas that are most likely to explode. And Clegg would have to show that he was propping up the Tories not just to find ministerial office for himself or his friends, but to change the nature of Cameron's government. For example, he might demand that Ken Clarke is made chancellor. There is no prospect of Vince Cable being made chancellor: to cede control of the economy would move Tory MPs to mutiny. Losing George Osborne is something they would handle far better.

The main problem with this theory is that the europhile Ken Clarke would surely be more unacceptable to the Tory backbenchers than Vince Cable - though the Tories have chosen Clarke to be a face of the campaign while keeping Osborne out of view.

Iain Martin at the WSJ has a similar account of what the LibDems would want.

But there is not going to be a Tory-LibDem coalition. (Julian Astle of CentreForum counts the many reasons why in his well-informed recent report).

The LibDems do now seem pretty much pre-committed to ensuring the 'supply and confidence' viability of a Tory minority which won most seats and votes. (This would probably be achieved through abstention on an emergency budget, assuming there was not a detailed concordat on the content). Whether they could trade that for the power to alter the personnel of a Tory minority government might be in doubt. Perhaps there would be little harm in trying.

So some senior Tory watchers believe the LibDems could then be offered Phillip Hammond in Osborne's place. That delivers a symbolic scalp, but may fall short as it does not change the nature of the government. This could, indeed, strengthen the focus on cuts, which the LibDems on the whole would not welcome, despite Clegg recently outflanking the Tories on the right over spending cuts in preference to any further tax rises.

Still, I rather suspect that Rebekah Wade, Dominic Mohan and Rupert Murdoch may retain more power over who would be in a Cameron cabinet than Nick Clegg, even if the red top's decapitation of Dominic Grieve and promotion of Chris Grayling has not quite been the triumph that many anticipated.


John Rentoul suggests that Cable for Chancellor is the likely outcome of Labour winning more seats.

So, if Labour is the largest party, Brown could offer Clegg a deal. Already, Labour offers the Lib Dems the Alternative Vote – a limited electoral reform that would give the Lib Dems significantly more seats. Because it will be in Labour's manifesto, Brown should be able to deliver his MPs. Then he could offer Clegg a two-year agreed recovery programme, given that the parties are close on economic policy. Does anyone doubt that, if necessary to keep him in office, Brown would also offer Vince Cable the post of Chancellor? Labour MPs wouldn't like it, but as the price of power? The Lib Dems would be deeply suspicious, but as one Lib Dem source told me: "There is a limit to what Nick Clegg can say No to."

1 comment:

Robert said...

I was out this week talking to friends mate and people, and I said god this country in a mess, and a bloke said yes Manchester Unite are broke, another said we need a new rich owner, and you think people are worried about the economy most do not even know we are in trouble