It has been a pretty good week for George Osborne. His pre-election budget passed off without much controversy and received a good press. It may not have yet generated an improved poll rating for his party, but if the Tories don't win the election, nobody can blame the budget.
Monday also saw the first of the campaign's TV debates, with Sky's Ask The Chancellors. Actually, it wasn't a debate like the three-cornered affair we saw in 2010. This time, the Lib Dems were excluded and, rather than debate one another, Osborne and Ed Balls took questions and answers from the audience. Another good move from the Chancellor, to avoid giving his relatively unpopular Labour opponent a chance to redefine their argument.
In truth, the show was a damp squib, from which we learnt nothing. It is unlikely to have swayed any voters. Osborne had a positive story to tell, but few popular answers to offer regarding interest rates or job insecurity. Balls was asked to apologise for the mess Labour left, faced some hostile questions on the mansion tax, but had a trump card to play on Europe.
When the questioners were interviewed afterwards, few were particularly happy with the responses received. From an electoral perspective, this suits Osborne and the Tories. They know they have a big lead over Labour regarding economic competence. The main task is to avoid conceding that advantage - hence the no frills budget.
Within hours, the show had dropped down the news agenda anyway, after David Cameron declared that he wouldn't run for a third term. The resulting media frenzy summed up why politicians always avoid answering the 'leadership question'. Even the most banal, blindingly obvious statement gets blown out of all proportions.
Nevertheless, Cameron has fired the starting gun on the contest to be Next Conservative Party Leader, and even named the three likeliest candidates. To nobody's surprise, that trio are Osborne, Boris Johnson and Theresa May.
The Chancellor is the currently the outsider of three but excellent value at [9.4]. It's no secret he wants the job and, given his position at the top table, is in a good place to engineer a bid, just as Gordon Brown did, with plenty of acolytes working for his cause. If the Tories get re-elected, his stewardship of the economy will get the credit. If they lose, nobody will blame him.
Critics have said Osborne lacks charisma, but on the evidence of this debate, he looked well up to the job. He coped well, politely, with hostile questioning. Much better than Cameron did at a similar event with young voters recently.
There was something Blair-like about the way Osborne managed to deflect blame from his own failings. For instance, when somebody complained about banks not lending, George took on the ordinary man persona, shaking his head at the terrible way banks have behaved, conveniently forgetting that he is the man in charge! Blair did this throughout his time in office, to the wonder of his opponents, but it's not an easy task.
He'll never have the unique charisma of Boris, but there are many similarities with Brown, who ended up as the only candidate to succeed Blair. As this story develops, Osborne's current odds simply have to shorten up considerably.
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