George Osborne – the young pretender

The ‘boy versus the bear’ is the gleeful billing some politicos have given to the match between new Conservative shadow chancellor George Osborne and the formidable Gordon Brown.

At 34, his apparent meteoric rise has raised the hackles of envious backbenchers and there are already doubts that ‘Boy George’ can succeed where six other shadow chancellors have failed. But Osborne’s age belies his experience. He has already clocked up 11 years within the party, several of those working for two of its former leaders, which is why, despite the jokes, senior Labourites privately see him as one to watch.

Osborne, together with his side-kick, shadow education secretary David Cameron, are billed as the ‘Tory Blair and Brown’, the duo that can turn around the party’s fortunes.

Osborne has already been cast as the Brown character, deciding not to stand in the autumn leadership contest preferring instead to hone his skills on the front bench.

The duo belong to the infamous ‘Notting Hill set’ – a group of reformist, metropolitan young Tories dubbed ‘too posh for politics’. The group, which has often surrounded current leader Michael Howard, believe in cutting taxes and rolling back the state while improving services.

These will undoubtedly figure in Osborne’s policies and he will be under pressure to produce more cast-iron economic plans after the party’s patchy performance during the election. Labour and the Liberal Democrats picked holes in Tory tax policy, forcing the party to admit that its signature cuts would not take effect until 2006.

The MP for Tatton is also expected to try and broaden the party’s image away from tax and spend and is likely to concentrate on overhauling public services, learning Labour’s lesson that education and health are popular election platforms.

His classic ‘Tory Boy’ background makes him the type of Conservative that Labour loves to hate. Educated at the exclusive St Paul’s School in London and Magdalen College Oxford, he sits on an estimated £3m fortune from his father’s wallpaper company, Osborne and Little.

He is married to Frances Howell, daughter of Lord Howell a former minister for Margaret Thatcher.

But privilege aside, Osborne has worked hard for the party and his rather liberal (he voted against anti-homosexual legislation, section 28) but Eurosceptic views mean he doesn’t confirm to a stereotype, which could present future problems for opposition parties.

Osborne joined the party’s political research department in 1994 after a brief stint as a journalist. After a year he moved to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as special adviser, two years later entering No 10 to work for John Major.

He stayed close to the leadership serving as political secretary to William Hague for four years before entering Parliament in 2001 as MP for Tatton, where he succeeded Martin Bell and Neil Hamilton. He has also served in a number of shadow ministerial posts; work and pensions, economic secretary and shadow chief secretary to the Treasury.

His close relationship with previous party leaders means that Osborne knows the policies that work and those that don’t. And while he’s rejected as a young pretender for now, his telegenic and measured image mean that in future he could be squaring up to Brown on the leaders’ despatch box.

Related reading