Former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Gideon Osborne, has pulled himself out of backbench obscurity with a revival of his ‘Northern Powerhouse’ idea. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in his first interview since being sacked by new Prime Minister Theresa May, Osborne explained:
I don’t want to write my memoirs because I don’t know how the story ends. I want to hang around and find out.
Osborne was born and raised in wealthy West London, the son of a Baronet and an alumnus of £20,000-a-year St Paul’s School. As Chancellor, he oversaw six years of disastrous austerity. Fixated on privatisation and trickle-down economics, many of the measures he implemented – such as cuts to tax credits, rising council tax charges, and the decimation of public sector jobs – disproportionately affected those outside of the affluent South East. This amounted to the largest series of cuts to public spending since the end of World War II.
His time in office was also marked by a consistent failure to deliver on targets. Initially promising to achieve a budget surplus by 2015, he was unable to do so, stretching the forecast to 2020. This shifting of goalposts did not succeed either, and Osborne was forced to perform an embarrassing climb-down after his budget of 2016.
Having been unable to fulfil his brief once again, and with the deficit widening, he suffered the humiliation of a rebellion within his own party over £4.4bn of proposed cuts to disability benefits.
Such was his record of failure that, following the replacement of David Cameron by May at Number 10, Osborne found himself the first high-profile figure to be relieved of his position. Little has been heard from him since, yet unlike his former ally Cameron, he appears reluctant to relinquish a place in the public eye.
But his re-emergence has not been met with huge enthusiasm.
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Every time I hear the phrase:
"Ex-Chancellor George Osborne"
I get a warm feeling#ExFactor
— LobbyComm (@LobbyComm) September 16, 2016
Stop interviewing George Osborne. He has nothing useful to say and we're not obliged to listen to him any more #r4today
— Daniel Blake, European #GTTO #DPFC 🌹 (@KateVasey) September 16, 2016
Tied in with the faltering and expensive HS2 rail link scheme, Osborne’s vision for a Northen Powerhouse was claimed to be one in which the major northern cities – Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham, Hull, Newcastle, Sunderland – along with a collection of smaller towns, could come together to form an economic force to rival London.
After new Prime Minister Theresa May seemed to distance herself from the project, Osborne has acted on his own initiative. He will now chair the Northern Powerhouse Institute, holding regular meetings with senior politicians and businessmen, then lobbying government for investment. Again, reactions have not been altogether favourable:
— jane pickersgill (@tatteredstones) September 16, 2016
Osborne claims new Northern Powerhouse think-tank will protect his legacy of spouting the empty phrase while pouring wealth into the South.
— David Schneider (@davidschneider) September 16, 2016
How can George Osborne "push on with the Northern Powerhouse"? Is he heading up the M1 pushing a wheelbarrow?
— J.-P. Janson De Couët #PCDCAB (@jpjanson) September 16, 2016
Some see this as the first move in a ploy to raise his stock, and challenge for power:
So… looks like game on for Osborne v May over grammars, northern powerhouse and liberal Toryism
— norman smith (@BBCNormanS) September 16, 2016
Amazing interview from George Osborne, newly appointed leader of the opposition.
— (((Dan Hodges))) (@DPJHodges) September 16, 2016
For Theresa May, and those watching her as she seeks to distance herself publicly from the excesses of the Cameron era, Osborne’s re-emergence is a stark reminder of Conservatism’s dark heart.
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