I’ve been suggesting two or three times in previous postings that George Osborne, our Chancellor of the Exchequer, is the real Prime Minister of this country, while David Cameron is merely the . . . PR man for the government (albeit that PR people are very important these days). I now learn from a little snippet in my paper today that George Osborne’s former chief of staff, Rupert Harrison, is going to Blackrock and that he was often dubbed “the real Chancellor”.
Wheels within wheels indeed! Mind you, if Rupert Harrison is a senior Treasury civil servant — which I imagine he must be — there’s supposed to be a ruling some 20 or so years ago — that senior civil servants should take gardening leave for two years if his former knowledge would be advantageous to the firm recruiting him. Blackrock, the US asset manager, is apparently recruiting him for its diversified strategies team. So this appointment should never have happened. If Osborne and his sidekick have not been involved with diversified strategies hitherto then I don’t know who else in this country could be.
This ruling has, however, been in abeyance for some years. The emergency which brought it about has long been forgotten about. In recent years, there have been any number of senior taxation experts leaving the civil service for some multinational corporation or other where they would no doubt give impeccable advice on how to evade future tex demands from their previous employers.
Besides, who issues these ‘rulings’? The Prime Minister? The House of Commons? The Queen? No Sir! It is the civil service itself in just the same way that it is the chief modeller of our unwritten Constitution that is praised so frequently in this country as being wonderfully pragmatic. It is the same civil service which regularly updates, Briefing Notes to government ministers, telling them (sorry, ‘advising’ them) about what is, and what is not, constitutionally appropriate and what procedures should be followed in some circumstances.
That’s the way this country is largely run — by the largely self-selecting, but still meritocratic civil service. On balance, I’m pleased that this is the way the country is run. Many of the issues that have to be decided are of a complexity above most MPs’ intellectual pay-scale. In fact, the country is run very similarly indeed to China, but most of the electorate don’t remotely realise this. But this could be dangerous, of course, The civil service ought to be more closely watched by some representatives of the electorate. It needs some reforms quite as much as our crazy method of selecting MPs.
But back to Osborne and his problems. It means that when Cameron decides to retire Osborne will put himself up because, according to my hypothesis, he’d be unhappy to serve under any of the three main contenders (Johnson, May or Gove). If he does, then who does he appoint to be his reliable Chancellor?
Well, it’s very obvious. It’ll be Sajid Javid, the present Minister for Business. Innovation and Skills, the very bright ex-Director of Deutsche Bank who has also worked for Osborne before in the Treasury and was his previous candidate to be Prime Minister — but hadn’t quite shown the chutzpah that would be necessary. He would be an excellent Chancellor, however.
When will all this happen? In theory, any time beween now and five years’ time. But it’s clearly the picture already that David Cameron doesn’t really have his heart in the job any more — he makes too many gaffes. Sajid Javid has a big dispute coming up with some businesses (I’ve forgotten quite what the dispute is about at the moment) but if he acquits himself well enough and, if the senior civil service agree (he’s probably already been OK’d), I think he’ll be in the Chancellor’s seat before too long.