George Osborne, the Tories’s shadow chancellor, is in the sights of Gordon Brown and the Labour government. Young, (he’s not yet forty), affluent, inexperienced and smooth he looks like a tempting target – particularly in the middle of a deep recession. If Labour can paint Osborne as remote, callow and out-of-touch with ordinary people, they might yet score some hits. They have already found a useful, if infantile, nickname for him – “Boy George”, after an androgynous pop star of the 1980s.
So Osborne’s speech to the Tory Party conference earlier today was a crucial moment. I was in the hall – and I thought he did well. The stance he took was of the firm “truth-teller”, levelling with the British people about the tough choices ahead. But he managed to package this with some crowd-pleasing measures – such as a promise that all government ministers will take a pay cut, and that no public servant will be paid more than the prime minister (about £175,000 a year, if I recall right.) That proposal might cause a few gulps at the BBC, whose director-general is paid over £800,000 a year. His promise to cut a third off the costs of running Whitehall, went down well – although I would guess it will be almost impossible to achieve. Read more
I am in Manchester at the last Conservative Party conference before the next British general election. The Tories should be jubilant because they are all but certain to win and return to power, after thirteen years in the wilderness. There is certainly a buzz about the place. But the party is trying to avoid any hint of triumphalism. Champagne has been banned from the conference hotel, to avoid television pictures of champagne-swilling toffs, celebrating prematurely in the midst of a recession. My colleague Phillip Stephens attempted to buy a bottle of champagne at bar at the Midland Hotel (purely in the interests of research) and was turned away. Frankly, he was lucky not to be handcuffed.
While most conference-goers are understandably focussing on the British political battle, people from all over the world are drifting through Manchester this week, to get a sense of Britain’s government-in-waiting. Last night I went to a dinner with Boris Nemtsov, the former deputy prime minister of Russia, and now a leading figure in the opposition. I was fascinated to hear what Nemtsov had to say about the Putin-Medvedev relationship. American officials I have spoken to are very intriuged by what they see as a nascent power struggle between the Russian president and prime minister. They point to Medvedev’s recent published critiques of lawlessness in Russian society and interviews with the independent press, as a sign that he is pushing back against Putin. The Americans even think that Medvedev might run against Putin for the presidency in 2012. Read more
At last! Ireland has passed the Lisbon treaty and now the European Union can move forward with its plan for world domination. Within months, the EU is likely to appoint a president and a foreign minister. Tony Blair is limbering up for a
run at the top job. A clutch of Swedish, Dutch and Belgian candidates are jostling for the post of foreign minister. Read more