Alex Massie

George Osborne, Poker Player

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May God protect me from my friends. That, I suggest, should be George Osborne's reaction to Ben Brogan's Telegraph column this morning. As best I can tell, it's supposed to be a supportive piece, reflecting on the Chancellor's efforts to rediscover his mojo in the aftermath of his justifiably poorly-received budget. If so, then, with friends like these... 

Optimism comes easily to George Osborne. In the face of adversity he chooses to smile with the confidence of a politician who relishes a challenge. There is something of the high-stakes poker player about the Chancellor, a keen student of the Lyndon Johnson Texas school of hard-nosed politics. He prefers long odds and a winner-takes-all throw of the dice.

For that matter, if Mr Osborne really is a "keen student" of LBJ then all one can say is that he has not yet been able to emulate, in however debased a fashion, the Master of the Senate's coalition-management skills. 

The rest of Mr Brogan's column, based in large part on conversations with the Chancellor's chums, gives the impression that Camp Osborne still believes George can be Prime Minister. Rum things happen all the time in politics but I think you can only truly believe in Osborne's Prime Ministerial and election-winning credentials if you don't spend very much time talking to people who actually vote in said elections. 

If one thing is certain it is that Osborne has made a poor fist of selling his economic strategy to the country at-large. Indeed, I can't help but feel Iain Martin is on to something when he suggests that the government might be faring better if Ken Clarke was back in command at the Treasury. 

Granted, Osborne has been delat a poor hand. The best that may be said of how he has played it is that he has bluffed the markets, ensuring that borrowing costs remain low even as he continues to borrow more than he promised to. That, however, is the kind of ploy that cannot succeed over and over again. What happens when they call his bet? In fact, Osborne's predicament ensures he must play a very different type of game from that Mr Brogan suggests he favours: he must sit tight, venturing only modest wagers and hoping that his dwindling stack of chips can survive until luck and the cards turn in his favour. 

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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