Now that the economic statistics are looking better, people are beginning to rediscover the once-fashionable thought that George Osborne is a great strategist. Things are coming together before the 2015 election in a way which makes life uncomfortable for Labour. I am not sure that ‘strategist’ is the right word, but I do think Mr Osborne deserves praise for something else. If you compare this government with the last, you will see that it is not dysfunctional in its internal relations. The coalition has constant frictions, but these are, as it were, built into the system. After nearly four years, there is no serious split or even known personal hatred at the top of the government. The trust between Prime Minister and Chancellor, which collapsed under Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown, is unbroken. Osborne is good at being powerful without pushing himself forward excessively. He is also cool-headed enough to realise his own limitations, and therefore does not annoy colleagues by trying to be a media star. Like most politicians that the public do not warm to and unlike most that they do, he is quite nice — humorous, good at absorbing what others say, pleasant to work with. His Treasury team of advisers is unusual in this government in combining policy understanding with media skills — much superior to their Downing Street equivalents, who seem directionless and content-free. And in an election campaign which will centre on the economy, it is worth bearing in mind that it is at the Treasury that horrible memories of the Brown years are most vivid. At a lecture to the Mile End Group last week, the Permanent Secretary, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, who served in his present job for the last five Labour years, set out his ten ‘propositions’ of what the so-called ‘Treasury view’ really is. About seven of them read as implied criticisms of the Brown years. His propositions are certainly not praise-singing for the present government either, but they suggest a certain confidence in the way things are going and a fear of returning to what we had then.
This is an extract from the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 25 January 2014