That's how Tory MP Nadine Dorries described the PM and the Chancellor. It’s been a really tough time for the two at the top of the Tory ticket. Up until now it was assumed that David Cameron would want and expect his pal to be the next leader of the Conservative Party. back
But that seems far from certain today after a period in which his loyal lieutenant and his political soulmate George Osborne has been allowed to take the blame for a disastrous budget and much else besides.
This Thursday will see the pasty-tax protest and petition of tens of thousands come to the door of Number 10, just where the PM has been trying hard to keep it away from. Pasty lovers, angry grannies and concerned charities and philanthropists have until now all been sent to the door of No11 to complain about a budget that was as unfair as it was incoherent. U-turns have never been more common. Gone are the days when some in the media talk of the ‘submarine’ Chancellor. No10 have not escaped criticism, but tellingly neither have they protected the man charged with running the economy and the Conservative Party.
There has been much commentary about the reasons behind the catastrophic budget – the cupboard was bare because of coalition horse-trading; the incoherence reflects a deeper schism within the Tories between traditionalists and modernisers; a Chancellor who popped off to Washington instead of burning the midnight oil at the Treasury; a fundamental shift in mood amongst a public exasperated with an economic strategy failing on its own terms. All are true. But what of its lasting impact on the Tory party?
A long held view in Westminster has been that George Osborne will inherit the Tory leadership when Dave decides he has had enough. Even if that had ever been true it now looks far less certain today.
George Osborne has assiduously courted the Right of his party while being central to a modernising project. He was chief strategist, darling of the media as well as a ‘real’ Tory in the eyes of the membership. Now, however, he is the man who has angered many Conservative supporters by limiting income tax relief for pensioners, has brought 1.3m middle earners into the higher rate of tax and cut the 50p rate to fatally undermine the notion that we are ‘all in this together’. It is his strategic judgement – once claimed by his friends to be his finest quality – which has sent party and personal poll ratings plummeting.
I'm confident that Labour will be a one term Opposition, and so who could take over from Cameron if not Osborne? George is still on 6/1 to take over according to the bookies, but let’s look at the competition. Boris Johnson is favourite on 4/1, William Hague on 10/1, Philip Hammond on 11/1 and Michael Gove on 16/1.
In my view Britain won’t vote Boris. His mayoral campaign has exposed a man with few ideas for London or Londoners. His primary achievement for a global city which should drive national economic recovery and can shape national culture is a free-cycle scheme (largely inherited from Ken Livingstone). Most people across Britain just can’t picture Boris being in touch with their lives or imagine him negotiating at the UN on the details of international crises. His greatest attraction of other-worldly eccentricities is also his greatest vulnerability.
William Hague has grown since his days as leader and could provide George with a worry. Popular on all benches, he has an authority and assuredness that comes with time in the House. He is also more of a moderniser than he is given credit for and led a party at a time it refused to be modernised. His record in the FCO, however, makes one wonder what he would bring. Having failed to set a vision for Britain's role in the world he doesn’t really have a clear view of the Government’s role in Britain. What’s more he sometimes seems more drawn to his other role as a successful author than frontline politics.
This would also be my criticism of the next contender, my opposite number Mr Hammond. He took over a defence review falling apart and no meaningful plans for reform of procurement but he is content to simply oversee his inheritance. When I debate him in the House of Commons I get the feeling there’s only one of us who actually wants to be Secretary of State for Defence. The job he covets appears to be one he's not in: the Treasury. He only gets it if Osborne moves on so expect him to have a senior role in any Osborne campaign.
Finally, then, there’s Michael Gove. Surprisingly I think he succeeds on the terrain George Osborne did before the budget. An arch ‘Cameroon’ and moderniser he is also lauded by the Right for his emphasis on ‘traditional teaching standards’ in education. I believe his reforms invert the very premise of Labour’s reform programme and will not change the life chances of many, but he cannot be accused of timidity or reluctance to challenge consensus. His work on adoption unites all sides and reminds us of his interesting personal history. Ultimately, however, he may be too dry and right wing for a public who prefer their politicians to be passionate and largely centrist.
All of these things in the Tory Party are notoriously difficult to predict. Mrs Thatcher's leadership campaign demonstrated that and David Cameron's victory over David Davies again proved it. It is a party that has been fed a diet of Euroscepticism for more than three decades. It is different in outlook from that of Mrs Thatcher. One thing that seems clear is that the man who runs the Party for the Prime Minister may never get the chance to lead it after the PM.