In David Cameron’s final speech as Prime Minister, he attempted to set out what he would like to be remembered for — focussing on progressive social change over the Brexit result. Tonight it was George Osborne’s turn. Speaking at the annual Margaret Thatcher lecture for the Centre for Policy Studies, Osborne found himself giving a speech he had expected to give as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Now on the backbenches — ‘more ex than chequer’ — Osborne used the address to defend his record in government and point to his efforts to build a fairer society. Despite his recent sacking from the Cabinet by Theresa May, Osborne said he had no regrets when it came to his role in the referendum. In reference to his doomsday warnings and punishment budgets, he conceded that he didn’t do it ‘by half-measures’ — adding that he stood by his concerns:
‘I fought hard – as hard as I could – for a different outcome to the referendum we have just held on our membership of the EU. I didn’t do it by half-measures; I couldn’t on an issue like that.
I put everything on the line, and don’t regret for a moment that I did. But while I don’t resile from any of the concerns that I expressed in advance of that vote; nor do I intend to re-run the arguments now the vote has passed.’
However, Osborne was conciliatory in tone when it came to the new government, stressing that May had his full backing. As for his successor Philip Hammond? Osborne offered high praise indeed, citing Hammond as the best choice for the role — after him, natch; ‘there is literally no one I would rather see in Number Eleven after me than Philip’.
There was a hint, too, that Osborne might not be the obedient backbench MP he claims. While he accepted that many of the issues he championed were now for new ministers to pursue, Osborne vowed to ‘remain passionately committed to the Northern Powerhouse’.