Tories jostle for top job

The recent Conservative party conference witnessed would-be party leaders seeking to make their mark. Emily Hohler reports.


George Osborne: moving to occupy enemy territory

The chancellor, George Osborne, stepped up his "swaggering incursion into the political centre ground" at the Conservative party conference this week, "stealing Labour policies, Labour slogans and even former Labour ministers to reinforce the Tory claim to be the true workers' party'", says George Parker in the Financial Times. Osborne believes that Labour's shift to the left under Jeremy Corbyn has given the Tories a "historic opportunity to occupy enemy territory".

His speech was preceded by a short film showing him announcing a national living wage (a Labour policy) and signing devolution deals with Labour council leaders in the north. He then announced the creation of a national infrastructure commission (another Labour idea) to be headed by the former Labour transport secretary, Lord Adonis. He finished by promising to hand over control of business rates to local authorities, "a policy straight out of the Labour manifesto".

Osborne's speech also sounded like it was setting out his stall for a leadership bid, with talk of Tories being the builders of a new Britain (a theme stolen from Labour's Aneurin Bevan). By declaring his decision to stand down by 2020, the prime minister, David Cameron, has created "an almost palpable shifting of power" and Osborne is stepping up to take it.

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He isn't the only one treating the conference like a beauty pageant, says Peter Dominiczak in The Daily Telegraph. His speech was "overshadowed" by those of Theresa May and Boris Johnson, Osborne's main rivals for the leadership. May, the home secretary, delivered a controversialand uncompromising speech on immigration, warning that too many immigrants would damage society and suggesting that European Union rules of free movement may have to be changed.

Boris Johnson, on the other hand, the present mayor of London, won a "lengthy standing ovation" for his "electrifying" speech outlining his pitch as a moderate "One Nation" leader, taking the opportunity to "launch a volley" at Osborne for stealing his ideas, says Graeme Demianyk in The Huffington Post. It might be a good idea for Osborne to "remove the bull's eye from his head that front-runner status has given him" and get on with the "prose of government", says Tim Montgomerie in The Times. Michael Portillo, David Davis and Ken Clarke "can all confirm that the favourite for the Tory crown rarely inherits it". Osborne's biggest threat is that he might face a "time for a change" candidate in 2020 so he needs to "decouple" from Cameron.

He's aware of this and he will, says Dan Hodges in The Daily Telegraph. It helps that the two men are actually quite different. Cameron is an "instinctive conservative"; Osborne "more instinctively radical". Cameron's "chillaxing" style contrasts with Osborne's intellectual curiosity and interest in detail. But the process cannot be allowed to overshadow Cameron's secondterm. This requires "very careful choreography". Think of Jenga, where players delicately remove wooden blocks to build a tower higher. "Done properly, the result is a magnificent piece of architecture. If it's done wrong the entire structure comes crashing down."

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 

On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.