George Osborne is in danger of becoming the Tories' Gordon Brown
Next week's Budget will be make or break for the chancellor as resentment grows among Conservative MPs.
Politics is a cruel business. Only a few months ago we appeared to be observing the Osborne Supremacy. Everything seemed to be coming together to ensure a smooth transition at Number 10 from David to George. Ambitious young and not so young Tory MPs were in danger of being trampled to death as they rushed to join Team George.
How different is the situation now just a few weeks before the Budget. What seemed so certain no longer appears so. Regardless of the outcome of the EU referendum on 23rd June Boris is now regarded by friends and foes alike as being best placed to achieve his lifetime ambition of being PM.
How did this change of fortune come about and so quickly? The first reason has nothing to do with the Chancellor. When the PM committed the Tory Party to holding a referendum on our membership of the EU he did so believing that it would never happen as there was no possibility of the Tories winning an overall majority in May 2015.
The referendum decision has proved disastrous for the Chancellor's political ambitions. So too has the PM's behaviour in advance of announcing the date and ever since. The resentment felt by many Tory MPs and most activists towards the PM has been transferred to a Chancellor respected but never much loved by his own party.
The Chancellor has also contributed to his decline. He has the cleverest brain in modern politics but he can also be too clever by half and over the last twelve months he has made too many basic political errors.
Budgets and Autumn Statements always have an element of theatre and George has willingly succumbed to the temptation to pull a large white fluffy rabbit out of his hat at the end of each performance. The trouble is that whilst they arouse an almost orgasmic response from Tory MPs and commentators at the time they look rather less clever after deeper analysis by independent analysts.
The Chancellor is known to be a fan of Alistair Darling. The problem for him is that he is now in danger of being seen as a Tory version of Gordon Brown. He displays too many of the same traits. It may disarm and infuriate the Labour Party when he steals so many of their policies. The problem is that he is also causing despair and frustration amongst many of his colleagues. They want George to stop playing politics and concentrate instead on showing that he is a radical Tory chancellor rather than a blue version of Gordon Brown.
So the 2016 Budget is make or break for George Osborne. He must demonstrate to an increasingly doubtful Tory Party that he is the natural and obvious successor to his old friend David Cameron. His inspiration should therefore be Nigel Lawson, the most radical of Tory chancellors. George can no longer get away by just being clever.
Of course if there is a No vote on 23rd June this will be George's final big occasion as Chancellor. If the PM has to fall on his sword so too will the Chancellor. Suddenly the stakes have become very high indeed for a Chancellor who delivered an amazing and unexpected election victory last year.
Tory MPs have a notoriously short memory. The Osborne Supremacy may end up being replaced by the Osborne Demise.
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