It’s only 367 words long, but there’s whole lot of dirty politics in this story from today’s Sunday Telegraph. It concerns the battle to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader. Apparently, George Osborne is worried that his protégé Sajid Javid will be elbowed off the field as Theresa May and Boris Johnson jostle for power.
An unnamed minister tells the paper’s Iain Martin that:
“George is starting to panic that Sajid Javid won’t make the final cut and get into the top two. That means he wouldn’t have a candidate if there is leadership election.”
The report also contains the line:
“One Cabinet minister said he would support any candidate who ends the ‘Osborne supremacy’.”
Here, briefly, are some thoughts I had whilst crunching on my Cornflakes:
- Bad timing.There’s never really a good time for ministers to start bitchin’ and moanin’ about each other, but today is less good than most other days. The Chancellor might have hoped that the Sunday papers would focus on lauding his Autumn Statement.
- What goes around… In James Forsyth’s ever-insightful Mail on Sunday column, various friends of Osborne tear gleefully into the Lib Dems. But, over the past few years, it’s not just the Lib Dems who have been briefed against in this way. Various Tories will have bristled at quotes attributed to people around the Chancellor.
- …comes around? And they will also have bristled at how Osborne has placed his allies into elevated positions. Paul Goodman calls him “the Octopus Chancellor” for this very reason, with his tentacles spread all across Whitehall. No doubt, this is part of what that Cabinet minister means by the “Osborne supremacy”.
- Fighting for the party’s soul…Another of the Sunday Telegraph’s sources claims that Osborne believes Theresa May “will not give him any influence if she wins”. In a roundabout way, the Chancellor’s influence on the Party is likely to be a defining question of the next leadership election. Will his brand of modernisation be kept? Or done away with?
- …by proxy. Does Osborne really see Javid as the best way of prolonging his own political relevance? Rather than, say, becoming Tory leader himself? If so, we shouldn’t be too surprised. As Adam Boulton points out in his column (£) today, “Unlike Brown, Osborne has no difficulty admitting that his prime minister is the better frontman.”
- Is it actually an attack on Cameron… It’s practically treasonous for a minister to criticise the Prime Minister, but much easier to criticise his Chancellor and long-time confidant. Besides, it’s never exactly great for DC when ministers talk about life ADC.
- …or on Javid? And it’s not exactly great for Javid to be portrayed as more the Chancellor’s man than his own. It was only a couple of weeks ago that Paul wrote about the Culture Secretary’s leadership prospects, contrasting them with May’s. Is someone trying to scupper them early?