By Tim Montgomerie
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Following on from yesterday's speculation that Tory MPs would gun for George Osborne if (i) next month's Budget underwhelms or (ii) the economy suffers a triple dip recession, Patrick O'Flynn begins his Saturday Express column by quoting what he calls an "experienced and very sensible" Conservative MP:
“We can’t win a general election with George Osborne as Chancellor.
Shares in Osborne are not just plummeting with the parliamentary party,
they have ceased trading altogether.”
O'Flynn clearly agrees. For O'Flynn "Osborne is the man who authored last year’s omnishambles Budget, has failed to kick-start growth and amplifies rather than neutralises fears that the Tories are the party of the rich." He also lays into Ed Balls: "Balls was henchman-in-chief to Gordon Brown and is widely seen as the unappetising embodiment of Labour’s addiction to high taxes and high spending: the man who would take even more of our money off us if he got the chance."
O'Flynn's conclusion: "Neither main party is likely to win an overall majority with its current Treasury spokesman." His advice to Ed Miliband is to replace Ed Balls with Alistair Darling. His advice to David Cameron is to replace George Osborne with Phil Hammond, Ken Clarke or John Redwood. The move would "show that he is not running a “chumocracy”" and if Osborne moved to, say, Foreign Secretary, "he could still rely on his wider political advice".
Although I've publicly worried about George Osborne's deteriorating relations with Tory Cabinet colleagues my own view is the same as it was in the summer: George Osborne is not THE problem. The primary problem is the Coalition and its failure to agree on an adequate growth agenda – of the kind advocated by Allister Heath. As I argued in that post George Osborne is actually on the 'Right' side of most Coalition economic arguments – including with respect of green policies, top rates of tax, technical education and airports. There might come a time to move the Chancellor but now is not that time. If the economy is ticking along at 1% to 1.5% by this time next year today's frenzied speculation will have died away. I certainly hope so.