Over at Conservative HQ they couldn't be happier. They won a surprise election victory in May after weeks of polls predicting a hung parliament; their main opposition, the Labour Party, is currently bitterly divided over its new leader; and they've got several supposedly strong candidates to become their next leader when David Cameron resigns.
It is clear that George Osborne is Cameron's personal favourite to replace him, and he appears to have taken a slight step backwards as he allows Osborne space to maneuver. But is he wise in so blatantly putting his trust in the chancellor, or is his unwavering faith in Osborne misjudged?
Initially, when Osborne unveiled his July budget, commentators were quick to hail his political capacity. And rightfully so. He outflanked Labour, introducing what he likes to call a 'National Living Wage' starting at £7.20 an hour. As many pointed out, his living wage is not, in fact, a living wage at all, as it falls considerably short of £8.25. But politically Osborne scored big, claiming the Tories were now the workers' party and that Labour had abandoned them years ago. The newspaper headlines the next day, hailing Osborne's supposed 'living wage' success, proved that Osborne may indeed have the political tenacity to lead the Tories post-Cameron.
But after Osborne's July budget victory it all started to go downhill, and rapidly. His infamous budget also contained £4billion worth of cuts to tax credits which would have left over three million families around £1,000 on average worse off annually. The Tories' claim to be the workers party was left in tatters. The media turned against Osborne, mounting pressure on him to abandon his tax credit cuts. Even the Sun joined in.
After a stroke of luck provided by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which forecast tax revenue to increase substantially over the next few years, Osborne eventually announced that tax credits no longer needed to be cut. The Tories cheered behind Osborne as he made his announcement, possibly viewing it as another victory. But even they knew deep down this was an embarrassing backtrack by Osborne - albeit a correct one - which granted Labour with the opportunity to claim they were to thank for his dramatic climb down. Suddenly commentators were doubting whether Osborne was really the political mastermind they thought he was.
The next blow for George Osborne came during PMQs with Angela Eagle recently, where he so obviously lacked the flare to overcome Eagle's witty attacks. He struck a few minor blows, but none significant enough for him to claim victory. This was Angela Eagle's moment, when it should have been Osborne's.
At present, despite Cameron's best efforts to place Osborne at the front of the Tory helm, he has failed to deliver. His successes in the July budget were short lived and ended up causing him considerable damage in the long run. In hindsight, commentators will look back at his budget as a strategic disaster that surely alienated Conservative voters relying on tax credits. He may have eventually done the right thing and backed down, but his insistence prior to this made it clear he was prepared to slash tax credits, no matter the consequences for the families involved. Only when Osborne realised he was receiving significant political damage did he finally abandon his plans, which is an extremely unattractive trait that inevitably will put many voters off.
Unfortunately for Osborne, he still carries the baggage of being the individual behind all of the damaging cuts carried out in recent years, and his political persona has failed to develop into that of Cameron's; a bold, confident speaker capable of appealing to voters. The Conservative's have a successful leader in Cameron, and no matter your political allegiances you cannot deny this. His unexpected election victory in May demonstrates his capabilities as leader.
The Conservatives are upbeat, but if Osborne takes over they may find they have a leader who simply cannot appeal to voters as Cameron does. He still has several years to turn this around, but right now it seems the next election may not be a foregone conclusion, after all.Suggest a correction