Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Raiding the nursery

In an audacious move, says the Conservative Party website - but widely regarded by Conservative activists as a "palace coup" - George Osborne has been promoted to shadow chancellor, replacing Oliver Letwin, and given the key job of taking on Gordon Brown in the new House of Commons.

Now, we all know that the Tory gene poll is somewhat shallower than a tiny tot's foot dip but did Howard really have to raid the nursery to find a shadow chancellor? Furthermore, this one, at a mere 33, is the very type of Tory Boy that engenders detestation of the breed.

Born in London in May 1971, he was educated at St Paul's School, London, and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he read modern history. At Oxford he was a demy (scholar) and joint editor of the University magazine Isis. He was also a Dean Rusk scholar for a semester at Davidson College, North Carolina.

His only passing acquaintance with a real job was a short spell as a freelance journalist, whence he joined the Conservative Research Department in 1994 and became head of the political section. From 1995-7 he was the special adviser at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and worked in the political office at 10, Downing Street. From 1997-2001 he was political secretary to the leader of the opposition and secretary to the shadow cabinet.

In other words, the boy is a career politician, a public school product with a classics, Oxbridge background – reeking of "privileged Tory".

Just as bad is the other "rising star", former pre-election policy supremo David Cameron, a "moderniser" and Howard's heir apparent. At 39, he is another Oxbridge product and career politician, with about as much charisma as a year-old pork pie. Yet he has been given the "important shadow education portfolio."

Then we have the tired old Thatcher re-tread, aka "veteran politician", Sir Malcolm Rifkind, together with the dire Francis Maude and Michael Ancram, the latter in the all-important defence post. It is hard to imagine anyone as bad as Nicholas Soames, but Howard just found him.

The post of shadow foreign secretary goes to ex-party co-chairman Dr Liam Fox, currently chairman of the Liam Fox appreciation society and mounter of the greasy pole – pretend Eurosceptic but believer in not very much at all, except himself.

While David Davis stays as shadow home secretary and Andrew Lansley remains as health spokesman, amazingly, Letwin becomes shadow secretary for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Apparently, his first instruction to staff was: "We must not talk about Europe".

To complete the dismal round-up, Theresa May has been given the Culture Media and Sport portfolio in addition to her Family portfolio, and John Redwood remains as spokesman for deregulation. The lamentable Caroline Spelman continues with local and devolved government affairs, Lord Strathclyde as shadow Lords leader, while David Willetts switches to become spokesman for productivity, energy and industry.

The word is that this is a cabinet designed to exclude David Davis from the reigns of power, while the work goes on behind the scenes to stitch up the leadership voting procedure in order to ensure a smooth succession for the Rifkind/Cameron axis.

Altogether, the new cabinet is not so much Europhile as from the obsessively "don't mention Europe" camp, determined to bury their collective heads in the sand over this vital issue. It looks like UKIP might be getting some new recruits fairly soon, as the constituency members take on the implications.

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