Quietly and surreptitiously Osborne is marking out his pitch for the leadership, The trouble is, it’s thoroughly bad pitch. By denigrating opponents of privatisation he has set his face against the 70% of the population who earnestly want rail re-nationalised, a proportion so large that it must include nearly half who’re Tories. Osborne must assume that the case for privatisation of rail, as for every other takeover or outsourcing of public assets, is done and dusted and nothing more now needs to be said. If so, that is a very arrogant assumption, easy to make if like Osborne you don’t listen to what people are really feeling. Rail privatisation in 1996-7 was an ideological exercise, never justified on the evidence. A former Tory MP described it as “the poll tax on wheels”. UK rail fares are now the most expensive in Europe by a measure of 40% and rail privatisation is now costing the UK taxpayer £4bn a year in subsidies, more than a third of the net cost of the EU to the UK. And half of the UK taxpayers most heavily hit are Tories! Well done, George.
It is extraordinary that not long ago the Tories were seen as the party of pragmatism and flexibility, and Labour was the party of ideology. That has completely reversed. The Tories now have an obsessive fetish with contracting the State, regarding the use of UK public funds for investment in British industry as taboo (though not paying Chinese and French State companies handsomely for investing in British industry), generating the biggest white elephant of all time at Hinkley C because of their ideological aversion to renewable power.
There are other pitfalls that will come back to haunt Osborne. He has shown no concern whatever, and frankly no pity or compassion with what he has already inflicted on a third of the population through 5 years of grinding austerity, whereas Thatcher’s Ingham did at least have the grace to apologise for the desolation she caused in the north. But increasingly it is the middle class and Tories who are also now being hit – consultants, doctors, services for the elderly and infirm.
Then there’s the all-important issue of austerity as the government’s guiding principle. Public opinion is clearly changing on this – it probably changed a long time ago, but Osborne’s tin ear blocked it out, and only the Jeremy Corbyn massive convulsion brought it to light. If Osborne doesn’t now change his position on this, which will be seen as a deep political humiliation, he’ll be in serious trouble. If he does change, the prospects for bringing down the budget deficit will all but collapse. Over to you, George.