Yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph had a front-stage story gleaned from Iain Martin’s column inside the same paper. The gist of it was that George Osborne may support Boris Johnson as the next Conservative leader in order to stop Theresa May – who “will not give him any influence if she wins. She’ll clear things out”.
In one sense, this story is little significance. In other, it makes an telling point.
First, the way in which it is of little consequence.
Obviously, a vacancy may not arise in the first place: David Cameron may well be Prime Minister after the next election (However, we will continue our monthly future leader poll as long as there is a reasonable chance that he may not be). Next, George Osborne may not stay long in the Commons if the Conservatives go into opposition: can we be sure that, having occupied a great office of state, he would really want to stick around? Furthermore, it is far too early to conclude that Sajid Javid, a rising and talented politician, will not be a credible leadership candidate if the Party goes into opposition. (The Telegraph reported that the Chancellor is considering switching his support to Boris, on the ground that Javid may not yet be ready.) And so on.
Now the way in which it makes a telling point.
David Cameron, Boris, Osborne, Michael Gove – referred to accurately in Iain’s column as “Osborne’s ally”: they have their rows and their rapprochements. The Mayor raged at the Chancellor’s attempts, as he saw it, to force him back into the Commons – and to the front of the next election campaign. Gove reportedly slated Boris during a private dinner with Rupert Murdoch – while pressing Osborne’s claim as a future leader. As for “Boris upstages Cameron” – well, it even pops up as a google search term.
None the less, the four have a lot in common. All were privately educated. (The Mayor and Gove were scholarship boys.) All studied at the same University. Three of them were even members of the same society. All have worked either as special advisers or as journalists – or in the Chancellor’s case, both. All came into the Commons during the Blair Supremacy, to adapt a phrase from Iain’s column: it left a mark on each of them. In short, all are members of the Club – sociable, political to their fingertips, birds of a feather.
The Home Secretary also studied at Oxford, and nurtured political ambitions early. But there the resemblance ends. She was educated at a private school, a grammar school and a comprehensive (the second having become the third). She worked at the Bank of England, rather than in a government department or at a newspaper. Unlike any of the four men, she has served as a local councillor. She is of an older generation. At 58, she is eight years older than Boris, nine than Cameron, eleven than Gove, and a full 15 years older than Osborne.
This perhaps accounts for some of the backing she has had from other members of the so-called National Union of Ministers over the squeeze on non-ringfenced spending departments. Philip Hammond was a co-member. Iain Duncan Smith is an admirer.
But biggest difference of is nothing to do with age – or even temperament, though she is famously reserved where they are outgoing. The difference between her and the four men isn’t so much one of belief or outlook or even approach to politics as one of sex and sensibility. “She’s always a woman to me,” sings Billy Joel. In quoting him, I am showing my age. But the point remains. Why do Boris, Osborne and Gove all converge to agree: Anyone But Theresa? Could it be because she’s not a member of the Club.