“I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody.”
Are those famous Marlon Brando lines from ‘On The Waterfront’ swirling round George Osborne’s head? Bitterness towards Theresa May and the world in general, is the most obvious explanation for the ex-Chancellor’s behaviour.
There must be a certain degree of enjoyment for him – using Evening Standard editorials to add to the Prime Minister’s many woes, touring the studios to deliver well-rehearsed soundbites.
“Dead woman walking” was hardly original but it was sure to grab the headlines. Job done. But surely there can be no great long-term satisfaction merely throwing barbs from the sidelines?
Osborne hardly wants to be the modern-day equivalent of 1980s Ted Heath – with added Twitter. There is, however, a much bigger problem for him. In short, George Osborne is one of the authors of the Tory Party’s current misfortunes.
It’s a little rich for him to now cast Metropolitan sneers at his hapless party leader. At the heart of all this, of course, is Brexit. The EU referendum smashed British politics apart like a chandelier dropped from on high in a stately home.
The job of trying to pick up the tiny fragments and somehow piece them together fell, partly by accident, to Theresa May. It’s no great surprise she’s been cutting her fingers to ribbons.
When it comes to Brexit, Osborne can’t dodge his share of the responsibility.
There have been plenty of informed suggestions that the then Chancellor argued within Cabinet against holding the 2016 referendum.
At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, he had been elected to Parliament promising just such a vote.
Alternatively, he may have simply opposed the timing of the referendum. If that is true, he lost one of the most crucial arguments of his entire political career. Doesn’t look great on the CV, does it?
Then there is the not insignificant matter of the Remain campaign. Osborne was at the heart of it. If it’s fair to characterise that campaign as “Project Fear”, then he was Fearmonger in Chief.
Remember the warnings of an emergency budget immediately following a Brexit vote, plugging a “£30 billion black hole”? He even spelt out eye-watering potential measures, including a 2p income tax rise and the slashing of health, education, policing and transport budgets.
Not enough voters believed him, and it seems they may have had a point. On immigration, arguably the most crucial Brexit issue, there are also questions worth asking.
Osborne is widely recognised as taking a liberal view on the subject. But how hard did he work in the months and years before June 2016 to sell the benefits of immigration?
In the heat of the recent general election battle, Osborne’s Evening Standard ran an editorial that was viewed as his personal broadside.
It ridiculed as “economically illiterate” May’s plan to retain the Tory pledge of cutting immigration to tens of thousands.
And it said no senior members of the Cabinet backed the policy in private.
There’s only one problem here. Osborne was elected to public office on a manifesto containing this very pledge. Are there any of your other public commitments you don’t actually believe, George? I think we should be told. The list goes on.
Remember who and what swiftly took the shine off the Tory general election victory in 2015? That would have been George and his not so marvellous tax credit cuts.
Back in 2010, Osborne’s deficit-reduction drive was hailed as the only route to salvation. The alternative, slower-paced approach of Ed Balls and Gordon Brown was portrayed as a shortcut to economic Armageddon.
And yet, to the untrained eye at least, Osborne’s flexible deficit reduction efforts don’t look that different in practice to Labour’s allegedly reckless plans. Not all the Tories’ election campaign failings this time around were down to May.
Their central message on the economy didn’t seem to resonate with the electorate; the claims of Labour profligacy didn’t hit home. It’s almost as if voters had stopped believing dire Conservative warnings.
George Osborne is undoubtedly one of the savviest Tory politicians of his generation. Luck has not been with him in the last two years. But he needs more to occupy himself than mischief.
Endlessly tweeting newspaper splashes and cartoons makes him look like an over-eager work experience kid. And sassy sound bites on the Andrew Marr sofa will eventually start to lose their impact.
Maybe he should heed the words of Mohammad Ali to the flagging Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle:
“That all you got George?
“You disappointing me.”