Is there something in the Westminster air? This morning the Times reports that Claire Perry O’Neill– the Conservative MP for Devizes from 2010 to 2019 – has quit the party and lavished praise on Sir Keir Starmer. In an article she praised the Labour leader’s ‘sober, fact-driven, competent political leadership’ and warned that Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt have become too beholden to inter-party factions to ‘deliver the big changes we need in a fact-based, competent way.’
Just a straw in the wind? Or a sign of something more significant? Perry O’Neill was once considered something of a rising star in that great Tory vintage of 2010. Widely seen as being on the left of the party, she nevertheless obtained ministerial office under both David Cameron and Theresa May, having backed Remain in 2016. More significantly, perhaps, she was also considered a member of the ‘Osbornite’ wing of the party; those MPs were close to then Chancellor personally, temperamentally and ideologically during his tenure at the Treasury between 2010 to 2016.
Members of this clan included Perry O’Neill, Nicky Morgan, Sajid Javid, Matt Hancock, Gavin Barwell and Amber Rudd. Javid and Hancock are now both quitting at the next election while Barwell and Rudd have both expressed public warnings about the current direction of their party. And let’s not forget that Osborne himself has spoken warmly of Starmer’s Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, offering her advice and praising her in a glowing Times profile as ‘clearly intelligent and serious… more than capable of governing the country.’
While it may be too early to talk of an ‘Osbornites for Starmer’ campaign, it’s clear that Labour are impressing their onetime opponents with a relentless focus on fiscal credibility. It’s a portent too of a likely political ‘sea change’, to use Jim Callaghan’s famous phrase. As Oliver Kamm notes,