Before Labour finds it’s next leader, it needs to find its George Osborne – and fast

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George Osborne

Here’s a quick challenge for you. It will only take a minute. Try and find a Labour Party blog that praises George Osborne. Nope, me neither.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is understandably not popular within our ranks. After all, the Chancellor has presided over the weakest economic recovery in Britain’s history and unleashed a wave of crippling public expenditure cuts, while doubling the national debt and failing to eliminate the budget deficit. If you were being kind you might argue that Osborne’s record has been somewhat mixed.

However, when you turn away from the economics, Osborne’s record is not mixed at all. The last five years have been an absolute triumph of Conservative Party political strategy and the Chancellor has been right at the heart of it.

Last week he headed up to Labour Manchester to announce the next plank of his so-called Northern Powerhouse policy, having just installed the devoted devolutionist Greg Clark as Communities Secretary and appointed the highly respected Jim O’Neill as Commercial Secretary. I could not help but admire the sheer audacity of it. Even Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester City Council reportedly told the Guardian that ‘not only did he rate Osborne’s speech but “we” – Greater Manchester – “basically wrote it [the Northern Powerhouse policy]”’.

George Osborne has not just parked a tank on Labour’s lawn. He’s brought the cavalry and started to co-opt enemy generals to the cause. Frankly, the ease with which he has done it has been embarrassing.

This is only one example. At every step, Osborne has been ahead of the game. Despite supporting pre-2007 levels of public expenditure, the Chancellor and his colleagues have so effectively disowned those statements and turned the fire on to Labour, that it still continues to dominate the Labour Party leadership debate, almost a decade after the financial crisis hit.

And it’s not just Labour who have suffered at his hands. Look at the poor old Lib Dems. The decision taken by Osborne and Lynton Crosby to defenestrate the David Laws of this world, in the south west of England, has left the Lib Dems fighting for their future.  You’d never know they had been responsible for the increase in the personal allowance and the pupil premium. Anyone would think George Osborne had single-handedly run the Treasury for the last five years. The Conservatives took all of the credit, and none of the political pain. That is an absolute political triumph for the Chancellor.

Even during the omnishambles Budget of 2012, there was not even a hint that the Chancellor would be replaced, demonstrating the respect his party has for his political talents. And I share that sense of respect for his political abilitys. I hate to admit it, but I admire George Osborne’s political skills.  

The question is, where is Labour’s equivalent? To be quite frank, the last Parliament was punctuated by mixed messaging and the odd tactical victory throughout. The overarching themes were either weak, obtuse or too readily dumped.

One Nation was a nice theme for a speech, but little else. The Cost of Living crisis was fine in theory, but too inflexible to respond to the inevitable peaks and troughs within the economic cycle. That message doesn’t work when inflation is running close to zero in the months leading up to an election.

And then we had “A Better Plan”.  Just think it through for a moment. A better plan than what? George Osborne’s long-term economic plan? I quite like the sound of that. Oh yer, I think I’ll vote for that long-term one instead.  The Labour message was defined in opposition to the Tories most effective message in the campaign. That does not win votes.

We have now embarked on a leadership election and a period of soul searching that is inevitable after heavy defeat at a General Election. Perhaps in the process we can find the strategist who is capable of taking on Osborne and his team. There’s no point being sniffy about it, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has bested Labour at almost every opportunity in the last 8 years. If we allow him to get the better of us for the next five years, we could be faced with the prospect of him walking through Number 10 as the next Prime Minister of the country. If that’s not an incentive to find a master political strategist, I don’t know what is.  

You may hate the guy. You may think he is the worst Chancellor in history. But you have to admire his politicals. So rather than asking the question “who will Labour’s next leader be?”, we need to ask the following: “Will Labour’s George Osborne please stand up?”.

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