George Osborne on Truss, Boris and the Tories’ self inflicted crisis
October 22, 2022. Series 7. Episode 50
In what is possibly our most topical episode to date our guest is the former Chancellor George Osborne. Talking on the day after Liz Truss’s resignation, George delivers a detailed view on the unravelling political and economic crisis and explains why he fears the end is nigh for the Tory government. And he also talks revealingly about the crises that came before … from the 2008 financial collapse to Brexit and his role in it. Delivering a lesson that any employer should hear, he tells me what happened on the day he was brutally fired – after six years as Chancellor – by Theresa May. And why it caused him to seek revenge. It’s quite a story. I hope you enjoy this timely and useful conversation.
George’s Crisis Cures:
1st Crisis Cure – Finding the time to clear your mind.
2nd Crisis Cure – Not being afraid to take advice.
3rd Crisis Cure – A glass of red wine at the end of the day.
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Host – Andy Coulson
Producer – Louise Difford
Andy Coulson: [0:05:27]
Hello. I’m Andy Coulson, and welcome back to Crisis What Crisis? the podcast which aims to guide you towards a more resilient approach to life and whatever it might throw at you.
I’m delighted to say that my guest today is the former Chancellor, George Osborne. George became an MP in 2001, then the youngest Conservative in the House of Commons. He later ran his good friend David Cameron’s leadership campaign in 2005 and became Shadow Chancellor, a role he held for five years until he helped guide the Conservatives back into power in 2010.
At a time when people are saying, “It’s only two more Chancellors until Christmas,” it’s worth pointing out that George held that role in government for what now seems an epic six years. During that period he faced a number of crises, perhaps most significantly the 2008 financial crash and its long repercussions, and of course ultimately the Brexit referendum that brought an end to his time in government. And there were of course plenty of other less historically significant but still painful bumps in the road, too.
So George is a guest who can help us understand the current political crisis, adding insight on what life is really like behind the door of Number 10 and the Treasury. And also along the way, offer his valuable view on crisis management, as a former politician but also of course as an ex- newspaper editor and now banker.
I should also add this disclaimer before we start. George and I worked closely together in opposition and for a while in government. We were and are friends, so apologies in advance for any hints of bias that might creep in. But it’s not the BBC, so I’m sure you’ll forgive us.
George, welcome to Crisis What Crisis?
George Osborne: It is great to be on this show, Andy. Very excited.
Andy Coulson: What on earth are we going to talk about?
George Osborne: [0:07:08] Do you know, politics is partly bad timing and podcasts are partly bad timing, so you’ve picked- although we fixed this some months ago I think, this is a good week to do it.
Andy Coulson: It certainly is. I was here- we’re recording this in Millbank. I was here yesterday, as it happens, and I bumped into a very senior journalist who we both know, someone who is pretty sensible and not prone to hyperbole. He said that reporting on British politics right now is no different to reporting on Italian politics. If anything, other than Berlusconi’s recent views on Putin, it’s marginally more chaotic here, he thought.
Now, that’s mildly amusing, but it’s also deeply depressing isn’t it?
George Osborne: It’s very depressing. And if anything, you know, Italy has had several decades to get used to non-functioning governments, and then they just get on with things without a government. But in this country we are used to having stable governments, fairly predictable politics, obviously big changes from Labour to Conservative and back periodically, but you know.
I think the real damage being done out there to the UK is that sort of reputation for common sense, pragmatic, sensible, rooted in institutions that have been around a long time, governance. And that unfortunately is looking pretty tattered at the moment.
Andy Coulson: So, can you help us make sense of this crisis? I think people will be angry about what they’re seeing on their TV screens, on their phones, but I think there will also be a fair amount of confusion about how something like this can happen. How a Prime Minister who was obviously not equipped for the job can get elected, bring a country almost to its knees, and then six weeks after walking into Number 10 is on her way without so much as an apology.
So let’s start by trying to answer that question, if we can. How the hell did we end up here?
George Osborne: [0:09:12] I think there are three things at work. There’s an entirely self-inflicted Liz Truss disaster which is, she gets in- I was actually prepared to give her time to prove herself as Prime Minister, and I thought she had more capabilities than subsequently turned out to be the case. But the Mini Budget was a complete self-contained political fiasco and economic disaster, and I’ve not seen anything like it in my lifetime in politics, where you have an entirely self-inflicted catastrophe that brings you down like that.
You know, we’ve had lots of other crises like the ERM crisis, arguably the Iraq war, the Winter of Discontent when I was a kid. These were all slow burns, there was a lot of political consensus around them, it wasn’t just one person or one decision that kind of led to them.
So this is a pretty unique case of sort of blowing up the chemistry lab and looking around at the wreckage. I would say that’s the first thing.
It takes place against a backdrop of general global economic crisis caused by things like the invasion of Ukraine, the aftershock of COVID. And so you know, in a lot of countries there’s a strain at the moment with cost of living.
And the final thing is a Conservative Party crisis, which I think, you know, we can talk about at greater length, but I would say stems from the Brexit referendum and all the aftershocks of that. The fact that there’s been a repeated change of Prime Minister is partly because the party won’t come to terms with what happened in that referendum. So there’s that element as well.
But right now, right here, there’s no reason why Liz Truss had to go, you know, within weeks. She was the author of that outcome, that fate, with Kwasi Kwarteng and that disastrous Mini Budget.
Andy Coulson: [0:11:10] Look, people make errors of judgment, they make mistakes. I can speak to that from a position of reasonable authority. But in terms of the safety nets, the kind of big brains who people assume are in the room when something like this Mini Budget is kind of being discussed, what happened there? I mean, what was it? Minds were elsewhere? A lack of courage? They were kept out, excluded? I mean, what’s- how does it happen? How was it that no one was able to put a hand up and say, “Just a small point here, has anyone talked to the Bank of England?”
George Osborne: So the first thing is that it was quite advertised in advance what she was intending to do, in her leadership contest. You know, she went out and said she was going to borrow money to cut taxes and help people with their energy bills. And at that time some people were warning, including Rishi Sunak, that that would be a real big mistake.
So you know, it was quite socialised, it wasn’t completely kept secret. There was already quite a lot of- there were warning signs out there, warning messages out there.
Andy Coulson: It was the speed of it though, wasn’t it?
George Osborne: So I think what then happened, and this is often kind of the case- you know, since I think the purpose partly of what you’re trying to do, Andy, with this podcast, is get people to think of their own situations or crises they may come across in their own work or personal life or whatever, and think, “Are there parallels?” And you might think, “I’ve got nothing- how could anything I’m ever dealing with be like a government collapsing and an economy collapsing?”
Well, the fundamental problem here was the kind of early warning signs were ignored, so people saying, “If you go down this kind of path there’s going to be trouble.” Credible people saying that. That was dismissed.
Then when it came to the actual Mini Budget, I mean I don’t know all the details at all so this is partly a guess, but I think an informed guess, a tiny number of people were in the room. And these people had just been elected, so they had a lot of power, and anyone around like the Civil Service or the Bank of England were like, “Well, they’re a brand-new government, a brand-new Prime Minister, we don’t want to be the first people- the first message we don’t want to give them is no.” You know?
Andy Coulson: So it was courage, then?
George Osborne: [0:13:36] It was a tiny group of decision makers, they weren’t consulting anyone else, so they were slightly believing their own- you know, if you hear the reports of the Liz Truss, Kwasi Karteng and team meetings they were all like, “No one before us has got this right. They’ve all been weak, they’ve lacked courage to do the right thing for the British economy as they would see it,” and there was no one in the room who said, “Hold on. David Cameron tried that, it didn’t work. Theresa May tried that, Tony Blair tried that. There’s a reason why we have the OBR, there’s a reason why we have the Bank of England.” There was no one in the room saying that.
And they themselves didn’t want to consult anyone, they didn’t want to listen to anyone, they of course fired the Permanent Secretary at the Treasury, so the most senior official paid to say, “Hold on, slow down, think again,” had been dismissed.
And I think the other institutions, the rest of the Treasury, the Bank of the England, the rest of the Civil Service, I think probably- and I don’t want to blame them for this because it’s an incredibly hard situation, they were probably like, “These people are brand-new, we can’t-” I don’t know. Maybe they did say things privately, I think they did around things like consulting the Office for Budget Responsibility. But they were just ignored.
And you know, I think in any kind of crisis or any kind of big decision, you always have a tension between needing to keep it [confidential 0:15:04] and wanting not to be sort of eroded away from your big bold idea with too many people saying, “It’s too risky.” But at the same time you can get yourself into a kind of bubble, a kind of group-think where no one in the room calls you out because you’re too powerful, you’re too new and you’re too assertive, so people are scared. Right?
And you’ll have seen it in the newspaper industry and you’ve seen it in politics, where you have a really powerful Editor who says, “Just put it on the front page,” and the Deputy Editor is like, “Is that really a good idea?” That’s when newspapers came come a real cropper, whereas a really good Editor, even if they’re very strong, will listen to a deputy for example.
Andy Coulson: [0:15:50] It’s true of newspapers, it’s true on any walk of business as well though, isn’t it? Isn’t really what we’re talking about the fundamental truth of leadership is that you’ve got to have the courage to have people in the room who are prepared to speak truth to power?
George Osborne: Exactly.
Andy Coulson: That’s the absolute essential ingredient isn’t it, of sensible leadership and decision making?
George Osborne: I would say my number one piece of advice from my various careers is in a crisis, or indeed when you’re making a big decision, or indeed in the way you set your business up, always have people who are prepared to tell you, “You’re making a mistake.” And that that doesn’t come as a cost to their career, or you don’t marginalise them as a result, but that you actually hold those people very close. Because they are very precious. And most people in most walks of life don’t want to be the person who says no.
Andy Coulson: The truth is George, you didn’t just make sure you had someone in the room saying that, you actually created to a framework to ensure that you got that, with the OBR. But we’ll get onto that a bit further down the road.
So that’s the how. Let’s talk about the why. Why is there such an absence of clear thinking, of a sense of national interest? Of an understanding that a government’s job, as I think David used to say, you used to say, “Our job really is just to leave the country in a better state than we found it”? Why has that idea sort of been replaced by this what seems to me at least a kind of- there’s always been self-interest in politics of course, but that’s all there is it seems, I think, outside looking in at the moment. Or maybe I’m just turning into my dad, I don’t know.
George Osborne: [0:17:33] You might be turning into your dad a bit. I think Liz Truss was genuinely trying to do something that she thought was right for the country. She thought previous governments had not focused on economic growth, certain kind of big decisions had been ducked on things like fracking to make sure we had our own gas, or planning changes so that we build homes for young people rather than listening to people who don’t want homes being built, or indeed like top rate of tax is very unpopular but she would argue kind of good for getting enterprise going.
So I think she was trying to do what she- I think she had kind of good motives, they weren’t- because if you were only out for yourself then you’re only in survival mode and you wouldn’t kind of take big risks like she took.
So I think that- you know, but I imagine lots of people listening to this are at this point shouting at the speaker.
What is I think true is that the longer a government is in office, and I saw this with Labour when I was the Shadow Chancellor and I saw it with the Conservatives when I was working in Downing Street when I was in my early 20s and basically doing the photocopying there, I think the longer you’re in office it is true that you kind of get insulated from the real world. You know, you’ve been a Minister for years, you’ve been chauffeur-driven around for years, everyone has been, “Yes Minister,” for years. You’ve sort of lost your connection with reality a bit.
You’ve started to accumulate all kind of baggage as a party where it’s all, “We can’t do this thing because we tried that two years ago,” or, “We said we weren’t going to do it three years ago,” or whatever. So you’ve sort of got yourself increasingly boxed in. And the divisions and the hatreds and the kind of you know, “That bastard fired me,” mentality kind of builds up.
You’ve now got, if you think about it, we’re about to have a new government. You’ve had Theresa May come in and fire all the people, myself included, who had worked for David Cameron, Boris Johnson come in and fire all the people who had worked for Theresa May, Liz Truss come in and fire all the people who worked for Boris Johnson. Right? And there’s a limited number of people you’re talking about, right? So they’re all swirling around in the same pond and there’s a lot of animosity and enmity there.
And so you don’t have- it’s quite hard then for those people to try and work together and focus on what they think collectively is the national interest.
Andy Coulson: Yes.
George Osborne: [0:20:19] And I think, you know, you get to a point therefore where there’s a sort of shelf-life of governments which seems to be, in my lifetime anyway, my adult lifetime, kind of beyond the tenth year. You can stretch it out, the Tory government lasted 18 years when I was a kid, but you know, you’re kind of beyond the cracking point- the cracks begin to appear and the country says, “Okay, now time to give the other people a chance.
Andy Coulson: So where we are now has a sense of inevitability about it, for you?
George Osborne: It’s very hard to make absolute assertions in politics because you know, as we’ve just seen, who the hell knows what happens next?
Andy Coulson: No one knows anything.
George Osborne: But you know, if you were looking at- if you take a big step back, you would say the Labour party have been in a complete mess under Corbyn, now look pretty sensible, together, united, focused on winning. Keir Starmer, Rachel Reeves, Yvette Cooper, they look like people who could be a government. And the Tories increasingly don’t look like that.
Now, I don’t think the Labour party have sealed the deal by any means, and who knows, the next Prime Minister in a weeks’ time might well be able to turn the situation around. But that’s how it kind of feels if you kind of step away from the minute-by-minute drama.
And I remember that strong feeling when I was in Downing Street in the 1990s, that Tony Blair and New Labour were coming in and we kind of knew it in Downing Street, and I also got that sense as Shadow Chancellor. It was very exciting but also kind of a rather intimidating feeling that things were moving our way. You know, we were working together at the time and you know, you just felt it was all- we didn’t quite know how, and we didn’t want to believe it, we certainly didn’t want to be complacent.
Andy Coulson: But there was opportunity, yes.
George Osborne: There was a kind of feeling of a change in the zeitgeist and a move towards us. And I think we’re seeing that at the moment in a move towards Labour.
Andy Coulson: [0:22:22] So, I spoke yesterday with a Marine Colonel for a future episode And we discussed the importance of esprit de corps in crisis: that ability to bring together men and women from different backgrounds, different beliefs, to commit to a common cause. Critical obviously in a military, war, conflict environment.
Is that what you’re saying, that that’s- the current political climate, and perhaps the political system, doesn’t allow for that anymore?
George Osborne: Well, it does allow for it, I think you can create a kind of band of brothers and sisters in opposition and in government. I think David Cameron was really successful and it wasn’t just with the Conservatives, it was with the Liberal Democrats. In those years of the Coalition government there was a strong sense of camaraderie and friendship, and the fact I’m still-
Andy Coulson: Sure. I’m talking about as a result of the last five years.
George Osborne: [0:23:24] I think it’s much harder inside the Conservative movement at the moment. But I don’t think it’s impossible and I would, you know, I think whoever becomes the Prime Minister in a week’s time should make a huge effort, in fact I would say this is their number one job, is to try and get the band back together a bit. To try and bring in the different factions of the Conservative party and make them all feel that they are represented at the table. Not everyone is going to be happy and there’s a limited number of jobs and you know, it’s like a game of musical chairs running the country where only- you know, two thirds of the people don’t get a seat. Two thirds of your MPs aren’t Ministers so you’ve got to always be managing that situation.
But I think that- and not to think they’ve got some mandate for some dramatic new policy decision, which I think was the Truss government’s mistake. They didn’t have a mandate. Okay, they won the Tory leadership contest, but they didn’t have a mandate for sort of dramatic economic change. What she should have done, and therefore what her successor needs to do, is start by saying, “I am a Prime Minister with very limited authority, with a very broken party. I might have a majority on paper of 70 or 80 or whatever it is in the House of Commons, but in practice it’s zero. And I’ve got to painstakingly put everything back together again, like a china pot that’s broken.” You’ve got to glue the pieces together.
And actually in opposition, David Cameron went to great lengths, and I was often his wing-man on this, persuading William Hague to come back into the Shadow Cabinet, Ian Duncan-Smith to help the Shadow team, Ken Clark to come back into the Shadow Cabinet, people who it was said at the time would never help the Tories again.
Andy Coulson: That’s exactly right.
George Osborne: [0:25:06] And it was painful. And you know, these people understandably have a lot of experience and often come with quite a few demands about how they want to be handled, but it’s absolutely worth it. If you’re in this kind of- I wouldn’t say it’s always the case, sometimes you know, you don’t want to bring back people from the past in an organisation, quite often I think when you want a fresh start. But I think for the Conservative party right now you’ve got to try and bring all these different factions that have fallen out with each other back around the table. Or else you haven’t got a government. You can be in office and essentially powerless until a general election comes along, which I still think is two years away, but you won’t get anything done.
So if you want to be an effective Prime Minister you’ve got to try and get the party and the government functioning again.
Andy Coulson: What do you think happens next? As we’re talking, we don’t even have a candidate yet, but it looks like Boris is serious about wanting to come back. It looks like Rishi obviously will be putting his hat in the ring, maybe one or two others. What’s your read as we sit here now?
George Osborne: [0:26:21] Well it’s really hard, because we’re talking just the day after Liz Truss has gone. It’s not clear anyone will get the 100 MPs they need to enter the contest. But I guess you would assume Rishi Sunak is going to get the 100 MPs. I think it looks pretty likely Boris Johnson is going to get the 100 MPs, although I wouldn’t be 100% certain on that. And Penny Mordaunt might well get the 100 MPs, after all more than 100 MPs backed her last time. So you could have a three-way contest between those three.
And then it seems that- I’m a Tory party member and my email box this morning has got messages about how I’m going to get a vote on this in the next seven days. So then it will go to the members. Unless there’s such a pressure amongst the MPs-
I could imagine this environment, and clearly Graham Brady is sort of hinting at this, who is the kind of shop steward of the Tory MPs. That the MPs basically say, “Whoever emerges number one from our contest”-
Andy Coulson: It’s a coronation.
George Osborne: It’s a coronation. And the number two person has to drop out. It’ll be really hard to persuade the number two person to drop out if they fancy their chances with the members and they’ve only got- that will happen within 24 hours so it’s not like you’ve got the excuse that it will be bad for the country to wait.
But you know, the MPs could collectively say, “Even if you won amongst the members we’re not going to back you.” So the MPs could try and organise that. But even saying it you think it’s quite hard.
Andy Coulson: It’s quite hard but it would be evidence that I am completely wrong about the esprit de corps, and that it does still exist somewhere there, and that people can recognise. Because that logically is what should happen, right?
George Osborne: If you think of- you know, you’ve worked among MPs and you’ve reported on MPs and whatever. They’re not bad people. They’re under a lot of pressure individually, even more so actually in the social media age where there’s nowhere to hide, you’ve got to immediately declare yourself on issues and you could be photographed in a-
Andy Coulson: It’s a very tough gig.
George Osborne: [0:28:38] You could be photographed in the street with your family when it’s your day off.
So it’s a kind of- they are essentially self-employed. There are 300 and whatever number of self-employed Tory MPs. They’ve got their own constituencies, they were elected individually. But it’s one of those classic things which is they’re self-employed, they are all in competition with each other to a degree for jobs, but they will only survive if they work together. So it’s a kind of classic, how do you overcome the self-interest and the individualism and work as a team?
And that is- the effective leaders in politics are the ones who are able to persuade everyone that it’s in their self-interest to work in a team, that it’s in their self-interest to take a place lower in the hierarchy than they would otherwise, ideally like.
Andy Coulson: Sure.
George Osborne: And work for a common goal. And it’s not- I often think one of the reasons why business people often make very bad politicians even if they have been very successful business people is because they go in and they go, “Why don’t you just tell everyone, you know, your Chancellor is your Finance Director, your Board is your Cabinet. Just tell everyone what they need to do and get on with it?” Right?
But in a business, if someone disagrees they can be fired, and security escorts them to the door, and they are shown the door and they are never allowed back in the building. In politics, you fire someone and they literally go and sit, literally go and sit immediately behind you and try and bring you down. And don’t leave the building. Right?
And your board meeting, or your AGM, is not an annual event it’s a daily event. You know, you are permanently in session with your shareholders, i.e. the MPs.
Andy Coulson: Sure. And they immediately get to work on their phone in building a campaign against you.
George Osborne: So managing all that is just much harder. It doesn’t mean by the way that politicians are smarter than business people, it’s just a completely different set of pressures, it’s a completely different set of incentives. And if you go from one to the other- this is by the way true also of politicians who go into business, they’re often not that successful, you’ve just got to understand it’s a totally different environment. There are different levers you need to pull and different skills you need to have, of which number one is, you know, true of all these environments, just kind of take a moment to look around and listen and learn and work out how this system operates.
Andy Coulson: [0:31:02] So I’m not going to ask you what will happen, because who knows as we sit here now? But I am going to ask you what do you think should happen?
George Osborne: Well, I personally would like Rishi Sunak to win. Because I think he is very well-equipped to do the job that’s required now of reassuring the world that Britain is economically credible. And you know, last time I was quite torn because I also liked Liz Truss, but I was clear it should be either Sunak or Truss. So this time I’m pretty clear it should be Sunak. But you know, I’m only an ordinary party member.
Andy Coulson: Let’s go back to 2008. We’re in opposition, making progress after turning things around from the death in 2007 in Blackpool, but still a long way from the election. A global financial crisis unravelling as we arrived, literally arrived at Conference in Birmingham. Clamours for us to ditch Conference immediately and all head back to London.
I talked about this William actually when he came on the pod, William Hague, who was also in David’s hotel room with you, me and a few others that night. A live crisis of a pretty visceral nature, closure of Lehman Brothers etc.
What do you remember about that night, George, and the approach that you took? Because that was- that was you in the midst of the sharpest of crises.
George Osborne: [0:32:37] Well, the only thing I would say, I strongly remember it all, is that we weren’t in charge of running the country. So we were to some extent observers, although from what I hear I think the government at the time, the Labour government, also felt a bit like observers of what was going on. And it-
Andy Coulson: We were observers, but it was a massive test. Because what you described earlier about that kind of expectation around us as a team.
George Osborne: You’re completely right. The test for us was really two-fold. The first was, could we conduct ourselves in a crisis as people who looked like an alternative government? And that meant tearing up all the plans for that week of the conference, being hugely consensual with the government. In the middle of that conference I travelled down to London to see the Chancellor, my predecessor Alistair Darling, and pledged that the Conservative party would offer full support for the government in handling the crisis. David Cameron gave a very consensual speech, or bipartisan speech. So we had to actually handle those days well.
But the biggest problem we had was that all of our plans that we had put in place for how we would present ourselves to the electorate, which was essentially to say you know, “There are things more important than the economy,” were gone up in flames. And we had to pivot to a completely different message for the electorate; a much harder message that tough decisions were coming, the economy was vital, that economic stability was vital, that cuts would have to be made to public expenditure, a very unusual thing to tell the public before an election.
So we had to do a full pivot and I knew, you know, I was in the hotel suite in Birmingham with you and David and William and others, watching. We were actually watching the US Congress vote down the kind of rescue package, it was called the TARP. And that was the moment that the bottom fell out of the world economy, because they suddenly realised that the American government can’t save the situation. Or it looked like the American government couldn’t.
And I remember just thinking, “Everything we’ve planned, everything we’ve lined up is going to have to change.” And it’s a much harder environment for us. I mean, it’s harder- in some senses of course it was catastrophic for the government and its reputation, the Labour government and its reputation for economic competence, and its promises around no more boom and bust. So you know, in a sort of classic sense you might say that’s great for an opposition. But I remember thinking, “This is going to be really, really difficult for us.”
[0:35:35] And so it proved to be. If we’re being honest, you know, you and I worked on the 2010 campaign, I chaired the general election campaign, and we were not completely clear about our messaging.
Andy Coulson: That’s absolutely right.
George Osborne: We were trying to run a, “We’re telling you tough, honest truths about the economy,” and at the same time we were saying, “But by the way, we’ve got this whole other softer agenda,” and you know, our manifesto didn’t really tie in with our economic message and we were not- we didn’t have as clear a message in that 2010 election as we should have done, and we knew it, right? Because we spent many, many hours talking about what we could do to try and get them aligned.
Andy Coulson: Yes.
George Osborne: [0:36:24] And the genesis of all that was the hotel room in the middle of the 2008 crash.
Andy Coulson: Yes. Well let’s move forward to 2010. I remember actually outside this studio walking over the bridge with you in the early hours of the morning after one of those planning sessions. And I remember you saying to me, “This is going to be so difficult to get to a majority. The numbers don’t really work. This is a hell of a mountain to climb and I’m not convinced that we can get to a majority.” Partly because of the numbers, but partly because of that disconnect that we knew we had in the campaign. And you weren’t wrong. Because that was essentially the result that we ended up with.
Which leads to a different crisis. So we’re then plunged into that extraordinary period. Great drama, can we make this coalition work? What do you remember about those days in terms of the management of it and the approach that you took? Because you talked about the pivot in 2008, and here we are again having to pivot again in an entirely different way.
George Osborne: Yes. So the first thing, since we’re talking more broadly also about crises, is you know, often in a crisis you are physically exhausted. We were physically exhausted. We had just fought a general election campaign and we- you know, historically we had actually done incredibly well. David Cameron got more new seats for the Conservative party than almost any Prime Minister before him. But it wasn’t enough because the mountain we’d had to climb was that bit taller.
So we were then in this Hung Parliament situation, the first time for 40 or 50 years, no rule book about how to handle that. And you’re shattered. I take full- I take my hat off to David Cameron. He kept his cool. There were a load of people running around. That’s another thing in a crisis, you get very poor information. Everyone feels entitled to come in with some little anecdote or some titbit of information that doesn’t- there’s no filter, it all goes straight to the leader.
Andy Coulson: There was no shortage of people in the room, either actual or virtual at that point.
George Osborne: Right, saying, “We should do this, we should do that, we should-” you know.
So he first of all was calm. And I think there were two or three things he did. First of all, like all good leaders, he had anticipated that this might be a problem or might be a situation, and had planned for it. So several weeks earlier he had spoken to me privately and said, “We might well be in a hung parliament situation. I want you to go away and think about whether we could put a coalition together with the Liberal Democrats.” And I had very privately had meetings with William Hague and Ed Llewellyn who was the Chief of Staff, and Oliver Letwin. And the four of us had read the Liberal Democrat Manifesto and literally gone through it and said, “We can agree that, we can agree this, we can agree at.”
And the Liberal Democrats, when we then subsequently presented them with it, were so impressed that we’d done the work, that we’d taken their ideas seriously. And we now know that Gordon Brown had never even read the manifesto and so on.
So, first thing, Cameron had prepared in advance for a possible outcome, a possible scenario.
Second, he told everyone to go and get some sleep on the morning of that election. I don’t know if you remember?
Andy Coulson: I do remember, yes.
George Osborne: [0:39:56] Right. He says, “Everyone go and get two- or three-hours’ sleep, we’re all exhausted.” Again, lots of other leaders would have thought that was a sign of weakness or you know, the last thing you want to be doing is going to bed. But actually it was like, we actually physically need to be able to handle being awake for a long period after.
So I thought that was smart. Then you know the big- okay he takes lots of advice from people, lots of random voices coming in. But he fundamentally makes the big call, which is, “We’re going to offer a coalition to the Liberal Democrats.” A full-on coalition which no one had anticipated. They thought there might be some kind of arrangement with them, or we would govern as a minority, or we’d leave Labour in place to fall apart several months later.
But no one had anticipated that, and as he described it at the time, it was a big generous offer. But it was actually the thing that secured five years of stable government thereafter.
Andy Coulson: That’s exactly right.
George Osborne: That moment, and any other arrangement, a minority Conservative government, a what was called a confidence and supply arrangement with the Liberal Democrats, i.e. not a full coalition, or leaving Labour in, would have led to further political chaos. At a time of real economic chaos. Remember it’s not dissimilar to the situation we have now. Britain was in the markets, under pressure, people were looking at our politics, they thought the hung parliament would mean we couldn’t make any difficult decisions. The yields on British Government debt was starting to go up, our neighbours were falling over, like Ireland and Greece.
So you know, there was a real danger of a repeat of what we’ve seen in the recent weeks, which has by the way proved that’s probably what would have happened if we hadn’t taken those difficult decisions and we hadn’t formed the coalition.
So you know, I thought that David handled that all brilliantly, really brilliantly. By the way, there are lots of things that I think he didn’t handle so brilliantly, I mean we’re coming on to the Brexit referendum. It’s not that I would say this of all the things he said. But I thought that was him at his absolute finest hour, and a finest hour for the country as well, because it gave the country a stable government in an economic crisis. Which is what we sadly lack at the moment.
But I guess there are lots of lessons you can draw from that about how to handle a crisis. Prepare in advance, listen to voices, but ultimately you’ve got to make the decision, physically get yourself into shape so you’re not so shattered that you can’t think straight.
Andy Coulson: [0:42:21] Wasn’t there also though, just sitting underneath this, because of course there was personal ambition, right? Of course he wanted to get over the line, of course you wanted to get into the Treasury. We all did right, that’s part of how you create this breed of cool, we all wanted it.
But underneath it wasn’t there also a kind of belief that this was the right thing to do? So when we’re then, those conversations with the Lib Dems then manifest in the way that they do, and then suddenly I’m sat in my little- an example from the communications end, I’m sat with people that I barely knew, two members of the Lib Deb Comms Team, and saying, “Right, you’re my deputy, off we go let’s get stuck in together.”
You’re having a similar conversation but at policy level, with Danny Alexander. And Danny Alexander I think ends up becoming a friend and a proper colleague.
That ability to kind of- you know, we’ve talked about the inability of the Tory party to be able to work together. Here’s an example of working with another party in the national interest. So that national interest bit, I don’t want to be sort of poetic or naïve about it, but that is the key, isn’t it? That’s what you’ve got to find.
George Osborne: Yes, that’s true. I think David Cameron had as all the enduring Prime Ministers have, a strong sense of national interest and doing the right thing. And that wasn’t just kind of bullshit for the TV, that was something- you know, you and I spent many hours with him privately and he felt, you know, he felt that’s who he is, and he felt a sort of strong responsibility. I think actually the Liberal Democrats felt the same way. Nick Clegg, who I’m still very much in touch with and friends with.
So yes, that helped a lot. And you know, I guess, I’m trying to think. I mean, I guess- I think it’s partly kind of good fortune that the parties were led by those people at that time. Because you could easily imagine a different Liberal Democrat leader saying, “It might be what the country wants but it’s going to be a fiasco for the Liberal Democrats.”
Andy Coulson: I totally agree.
George Osborne: And you can imagine other Tory leaders saying, “Well I don’t want to share power with any Liberal Democrats.” So there was just a bit of luck as well, I would say for UK Plc at that point.
Andy Coulson: One of the first things you introduced of course as Chancellor was the OBR, the Office for Budget Responsibility. We worked on the launch of that idea together, and I remember that although it was obviously initially eye-catching, that horrible phrase in politics. It was also undeniably the kind of right thing to do in what was an undeniably tough economic environment.
But we knew, didn’t we, that it was going to become- you were very clear, “This is going to be a complete pain.” Right?
George Osborne: There were moments when it was.
Andy Coulson: We are setting ourselves up to get a regular and repeated smack on the nose.
George Osborne: Yes.
Andy Coulson: But you said, and I am going to remind you of the words that you used when you launched it, and I’m doing this because it’s so topical right now. You said, “This is not about party interests, it’s about the national interest. The advice that we’ve received from the Treasury and the Bank of England make that clear.” That’s what you said on May 17th 2010.
So when we’re looking at a situation now where we know full well that the Prime Minister or soon to be ex- Prime Minister, chose not to take advice from the Treasury and the Bank of England, how do you feel about that and is there a personal frustration in this for you?
George Osborne: [0:45:58] Well actually the opposite. I mean no one’s going to get rid of the OBR now are they? [Laughter] I’m sorry it’s come at such a painful price, but it has, the last few weeks have been a complete vindication of what the OBR was all about.
For those of you that don’t follow the ins and outs of this, until we created the Office for Budget Responsibility, Chancellors and Governments marked their own homework. They told the country, “We think the economy is going to grow, and because the economy is going to grow, tax revenues are going to go up, because people are earning more and businesses are making more profits. And that money is going to flow in and then we’re going to use that to fund the NHS.”
And that all becomes basically a lie if the economy- because the economy doesn’t grow as a result of your plans, and then there isn’t as much money coming in as you thought there would be or told the country there would be.
The OBR are the people who come in and make that judgement now. They say, “Well we don’t really believe the economy is going to grow, even if you do.” Or, “We’ve got to be more realistic about the world situation. This big change you’re making in policy is probably not going to lead to the amazing results you think it’s going to lead to.”
So they are the independent judge now, and that means much more honest public finances and forcing the politicians to confront the decisions about raising taxes or cutting spending to make the sums add up.
Truss and Kwarteng ignored the OBR for the very reason that they thought that the OBR would say that their growth plans wouldn’t fund themselves, that there would be a hole in the public finances, they would have to borrow more. So they chose to side-line them and that I would say was one of the really big causes of the fiasco. It wasn’t just that they announced these tax cuts that couldn’t be paid for, it was that they had trashed the UK’s economic institutions. They’d fired the Treasury Permanent Secretary on day one, unbelievably arrogant, a stupid thing to do. They had side-lined the OBR, they’d gone around trashing the reputation of the Bank of England.
And all those three things came back to haunt them in terms of- the market said, “The institutions we trust, you’re not listening to or you’re trying to side-line or you’re firing, and we trust them more than we trust you.”
So the long end of a long result of all that is, I think when people- when I look back at my own career as Chancellor, six years, you know, I’m sure that one of the things that will most endure and will be there in decades and decades to come is the Office for Budget Responsibility. And if I wasn’t sure about that two months ago, I’m very sure about it now, because no one’s going to ignore them again.
Andy Coulson: It’s like, we talk about this podcast a lot, trying to find positives out of crises. There we are, there we are; we’ve done it.
George Osborne: And it’s a shame. It’s been a very painful, expensive way to establish the permanence of the OBR. But I think it’s a good thing, and again that’s- if you come back to leadership, you shouldn’t be afraid of creating rods for your own back, or having external independent voices judge you.
Because it- you might think it undermines you or you think it undermines your power, but it makes you so much more credible and therefore more powerful if you’ve got external, independent voices confirming what you’re saying.
Andy Coulson: Exactly, exactly.
George Osborne: I think one of the- certainly in politics, I think it’s true also in business, having the confidence to give away power can make you more powerful, but that’s not a contradiction in-.
So it sounds like a contradiction but you know, a strong business leader-
Andy Coulson: Confidence.
George Osborne: A strong business leader will hand to the head of a division a lot of responsibility for running that division. So it might be that you feel a loss of power for the CEO but it’s actually increasing the power of the CEO, because they’ve got a really well-run division, and that means their company is going to be stronger.
And that’s true in politics too. It’s true in the way we run this country. I would be in favour of more devolution to the big cities of the North and trusting them to be able to run themselves a bit more. Which Whitehall doesn’t like to do, because they keep saying, “Oh what happens if it goes wrong?” Well sure, but what happens if it goes right?
Andy Coulson: Let’s talk about the personal mindset bit here George, because I think this could be helpful for people.
We’ve touched on a few of the crises, some that were handled very well. We also, as you alluded to earlier, some were not handled quite so well. Some self-inflicted, some that came out of blue sky. It wasn’t all sunlit uplands by any means in the crisis handling during your time in politics.
But what always struck me, certainly when I was working with you, and indeed when I wasn’t, you seemed to have a pretty pragmatic approach to these things. You are able to sort of separate out the emotion. Even though on occasion some of the criticism you had has been pretty personal, you didn’t take it personally, you saw it for what it was. You saw it as the weather really, and it’s just something to be navigated. Have I got that right? Is that your instinctive approach when these problems come?
George Osborne: Yes, I guess I am pragmatic, I’m trying to solve the problem, I will kind of work with anyone to fix it. I sometimes have a strange out-of-body experience, which is I kind of see myself, if I look back on my political time, as the Chancellor, and then I’m observing the Chancellor and what other people are saying about the Chancellor. And I try to think about it coolly and rationally. Rather than get caught up in the emotion.
The danger of that is you could be too cool and too rational and not emotional enough, I would say. That’s the danger of that approach. And sometimes in leadership, people want a bit of messianic, a bit crazy, a bit like, “My God this guy’s got such belief in himself, it’s all-” or you know, “This girl’s got such belief in herself it’s all-”
There is a bit of kind of, you know, sometimes you don’t want to be too cool and too rational in a political environment. And if anything I may have erred on that side of things.
But generally yes, a really important thing is to try and see how other people see you to try and see if what they’re saying has any legitimacy, have they got fair points they’re making? These are very hard things to do for us human beings, because no one really wants to confront the fact that they may be wrong about something. And then try and fix it, and have the confidence to try and fix it.
By 2013, so after I had been Chancellor for three years, three or four years, it had been a quite- for me as a public person, it had been difficult and I had been- people didn’t like me and I’d been booed at the Paralympics and all those kinds of things. So the easy, easy thing, and I had sort of fallen into this trap, was to hunker down. I was like, “Well sod you, I’m just going to stay in the Treasury and get on with the numbers and do my job. Why would I want to go out and talk to anyone about it?”
Andy Coulson: Did that one hurt?
George Osborne: Well yes, it did. But it was a mistake. The response was a mistake and it took me about six months to realise and I got some good advice along the way. You’ve got to go out and explain what you’re doing. You’re the Chancellor of the Exchequer, you’re making big decisions that affect a lot of people. You can’t just stay in SW1, you can’t just stay in the Treasury. You’ve got to get out and go around the country and you’ve got to talk to people, and you’ve got to do a load of interviews, and you’ve got to be seen all around the UK.
I promise you; you’re sitting comfortably in your office in the Treasury and it’s like, “Do I really want to get on a train to Newcastle tomorrow? Aren’t I going to come across someone who is going to say something unpleasant to me? And I’m going to do some interview and they’re going to be unpleasant to me, and wouldn’t it be easier just to stay here? And I’ve got an important meeting in London tomorrow, so there’s a good reason to stay here.”
But it’s such a breath of fresh air if you get yourself on that train to Newcastle, to use as an example, you’re out there and you’re explaining what you’re doing. And I made a conscious decision to do that, having got it wrong for at least half a year. And then that ultimately morphed into me being in high vis jackets all over the place. But the origin of it was, “Get out and tell people what you’re doing, and show people-”
Andy Coulson: So that’s a crisis truism for you then is it? The bunker is not the place to be?
George Osborne: [0:54:57] In the absolute kind of moment of a crisis, the eye of the storm-
Andy Coulson: Choose your people, fill the [crosstalk 0:55:07]
George Osborne: You have to be in the bunker or whatever, you have to be in the room and you have to solve the problem. You have to come up with what we’d say in government is a policy or a- you’d have to come up with a plan and you have to clear everything out. You have to cancel everything in your diary, you have to- however important it is, you just have to basically create the space and the time to make the decision.
But once you’ve made the decision you then need to leave the bunker and get out there and- you know, I would say one of the mistakes Liz Truss made, after the Mini Budget, which was clearly a probably unsurvivable disaster, but nevertheless it might have been a route out. You know, she then hid away. She didn’t come out and talk about it, she got Jeremy- you know, it was the right decision to appoint Jeremy Hunt, to get rid of Kwasi Kwarteng, that’s what Prime Ministers do to survive. Tough business, politics.
But why let Jeremy Hunt make all those announcements? She should have been standing next to him. She should have been going out doing interviews, she [shouldn’t 0:56:15] have got on a train and- loads of people would say, “Prime Minister, you can’t get on the train to Newcastle because you’ve got to see all these MPs who are very upset today.”
But the truth is, at that point the best way to get the MPs less upset was for them to see her out there confronting the public, confronting the media, doing the interviews. And you know, in the end we barely saw her. She did a brief statement, she obviously did at the very late stages one interview on the BBC, but it was not enough. And in a crisis, having resolved what you’re going to do, you don’t want to go out there and talk about it if you haven’t resolved what you’re going to do because that would maybe add to the crisis. But once you’ve resolved what your plan is, you’ve got to go out and sell it, and front it up and own it. And whether it’s the workforce of a company or the public in terms of politics or whatever it is, you’ve got to in my view lead from the front in that respect.
Andy Coulson: [0:57:17] We can’t have a conversation about crises without discussing Brexit. Some will argue that the crisis clock that we’ve been- or the kind of era of crisis that we find ourselves in that we’ve been discussing sort of started there.
It’s widely understood that you didn’t think a referendum was a good idea, right? Do you regret not doing more to try and stop it, George?
George Osborne: I don’t think I could have. I made clear my opposition, I thought it was a bad idea. But I was also part of a team, and you know, we had the discussion and I was essentially outnumbered. I don’t think if I had resigned that would have stopped the referendum happening. The Conservative party very much wanted a referendum, David Cameron wanted to have a referendum, the other senior members of the Cabinet wanted to have a referendum, with the only exception of Michael Gove, ironically.
And actually when it came to it, the Labour party also voted for the referendum when it came to the big vote in Parliament. So you know, there were a lot of people who wanted it.
For me, the political mistake obviously for the Cameron government was to bet the farm on one vote, and then as a result lose the farm. And I also thought that- I guess I fundamentally thought these decisions are better taken by Parliament than in a referendum, you know, if you’re going to make these decisions. Because there’s more time to examine all the real arguments and you don’t get it hijacked by other issues.
Although I think to be fair the Brexit referendum wasn’t really hijacked by external issues. People did focus on Europe, but they were presented in my view with solutions that turned out not be credible. You know, we’ve got the same level of immigration today as we did at the time of the referendum, but we were told that the referendum would solve the immigration issue. We were told that it would lead to a stronger economy, but like really almost no one outside of Britain thought that. There were very economists who would have said it would lead to a stronger economy.
So you know, we didn’t really have enough time to expose those arguments. And I think, you know, I think the biggest mistake we made, for those who wanted to stay in the EU, was that we didn’t really lay the ground. We had spent years, by the way this is also true of absolutely committed Europhiles on the Labour side, it’s not just me and David, we had spent years picking fights with Brussels or claiming victories over Brussels. And then on a pinhead we had to pivot-
Andy Coulson: We must stay.
George Osborne: [1:00:09] Quite literally with a month to go, having told you for months or years that Brussels is so frustrating and Britain is being unfairly treated, or we vetoed this thing because we weren’t- suddenly we had about a month or six weeks to make the 50-year argument about why it’s been in Britain’s interest to be a member of the EU. And that was way too late, the train had long left the station by then.
Andy Coulson: But from the point of view of your decision making-
George Osborne: By the way, on that latter point, I saw that much more clearly after the result than at the time. So I’m not-
Andy Coulson: Yes, all much easier in the-
George Osborne: Much easier with hindsight.
Andy Coulson: But in terms of you and your decision making, the brutal truth George is that you opted for loyalty. Right? When others chose another path.
George Osborne: Well, what is true- I don’t think I could have stopped the referendum.
Andy Coulson: No, but in terms of-
George Osborne: But during the referendum I could have kept my head down and said, “I’m the Chancellor, I don’t think it’s right for me to get too involved in this issue because you know, I’ve got to manage the economy whatever the outcome.” And I think if I’d done that I probably would have succeeded David Cameron as Prime Minister. Because after all, that’s what Theresa May did.
Andy Coulson: Yes.
George Osborne: And she was a Remainer, and she got all the support of the people who had been backing David Cameron and me.
Andy Coulson: So how do you feel about that now?
George Osborne: [1:01:36] Do you know, I feel pretty good about it because- and I think it’s different. She was the Home Secretary, she was not as central as I was to the economic argument, and I thought- I could see it was all going wrong, I had a very bad feeling about the referendum. This is not with the benefit of hindsight, I had the foresight, I told people at the time, “I think we’re going to lose this, we could well lose this.”
I though that as Chancellor if I threw everything, and I’m not saying I necessarily did this in the right way or got it all right, self-evidently because we lost, but I thought I might be able to more the needle personally, that I could drag the country in a not particularly- it’s not a very edifying campaign, but a campaign that says, “You are going to be economically worse off if you vote for Brexit.”
Project Fear was what it was called by our opponents, but it was grounded in strong reality. And I would say Britain’s economic performance since the Brexit referendum has been clearly worse than it would otherwise have been. And that is what everyone from the OBR we’ve been talking about, to the Bank of England, to the IMF, to anyone who looks at the British economy externally, would say.
So I think you know, I felt I could have affected the result. I certainly don’t believe as is often written that Project Fear made Brexit more likely. Tragically it was the only argument we had that really worked in that campaign. There were people- the result I think would have been bigger for Brexit if people hadn’t had a bit of nervousness about the economic consequences.
So all the other arguments for the EU about international cooperation, about uniting the West against our enemies, about solving problems on the European continent in a collaborative way, about working together on climate change: all these other arguments about the EU, they had no traction at all because we hadn’t really prepared the ground. The only argument we had was that you will be worse off if you leave.
And we doubled down on that, and that came for me at a very high price politically because it burned my bridges with a lot of Conservative colleagues who were, I can completely understand, very upset about the way I did it. But I was fighting for what I really believed, and I really thought it would be a bad thing for the country. And by that point I was like, “I know this is doing enormous damage to my career, and even if we win this referendum I have burned a lot of capital in my Conservative friends.”
But you know, I did think it was the right thing and I did believe in what I was saying. And it was clearly not self-interest because the self-interested thing to do would have been to hide beneath the bed covers.
Andy Coulson: It was the very opposite.
[1:04:34] The nature of your exit itself was pretty brutal, right? The black bin liner treatment from Theresa May. Pretty disrespectful given the role you had played for the party and for the country, I would say, as your friend. It must have hurt?
George Osborne: Yes, it did hurt but not- I come back to what I was saying about the- sometimes I have the sort of out-of-body approach to politics. And I remember sitting in the room with Theresa May as she fired me, thinking, “You are handling this so badly. If I was firing myself I would be doing it completely different way.”
Andy Coulson: How would you have fired yourself, George?
George Osborne: I could see what she- her thinking I’m sure was, “I’ve got to try and construct a government that has got Brexiteers in it as well as Remainers. I’m a Remainer. If my Chancellor is a Remainer it’s going to look like we haven’t brought the Brexiteers in, and George Osborne has to go to make that all work.” That is a perfectly rational political decision, even if not one I supported.
But if that’s the decision you come to, then there are two things you should do. This is by the way true of getting rid of anyone, particularly in an environment where they’re going to go and sit behind you and not leave the building.
The first is, you should tell them in advance that, “You know what George, it’s very unlikely there is going to be a place for you in my government.” We knew for quite a few days that Theresa May was going to win. And so then I would have resigned, like David Cameron had done, had a kind of leaving party at the Treasury, walked out of Number 11 Downing Street head held high, resigning. And it was a bit of a fiction because I might have wanted to hang around to see if I’d got a job, but I’d been told clearly I hadn’t got a job. And so that would have been a kind of graceful departure. First thing, she didn’t do that
Second, she then- so she deals with me very curtly in the meeting and then I’m told to leave by the back door and clear out of the-
Andy Coulson: What did she say to you, George?
George Osborne: She said, “Speaking to you as a sort of older sister, I think you need to get to know the Tory party better.” To which I was like, again, I had this sort of out-of-body- but I was like, “Yes, Prime Minister,” thinking, “Is she really handling this situation like this?” Anyway. And then when I left I was told by her outer office to leave by the back door and get out of the apartment, where my kids were living. Right? And at that point I said, “I am going to do everything to bring you down.” I didn’t say it to her personally, I said it to myself. I thought, “That is so ill-mannered, ungraceful, no respect for my family,” at that point.
Andy Coulson: One of the ironies here George is that I well remember-
George Osborne: You know, and I- by the way I did have a kind of meeting with her later and we did sort of- because I said then some not pleasant things about here, and we did subsequently meet and kind of take the heat out of it all.
But if you’re getting rid of someone, even if you’ve got very good reasons for it, you should do it with dignity and grace, let them have some dignity and grace in departure. That’s true I would say in business, you never know when these people are going to reappear. But also particularly in politics, because these people don’t immediately go.
Andy Coulson: Yes. One of the ironies here is that I well remember standing outside the Cabinet room when we’d just gone into government, and Theresa came out having just been given the big job of Home Secretary with a look of astonishment on her face that it had happened. And I know full well that you were one of the people that was encouraging that idea, if indeed possibly even suggested it.
George Osborne: It was- certainly I was strongly in favour of making her Home Secretary, yes. And by the way, I had big respect for her as a political figure and cabinet minister and colleague of mine. And then you know, her mistake as Prime Minister was not to work out who her friends were and who her enemies were. I voted for her. Her friends were the Cameron establishment who had got her into office. But she turned against them and, you know, she ended up with Oliver Letwin being her biggest enemy, which-
Andy Coulson: Quite a hard thing to do.
George Osborne: If you know Oliver, he’s one of the nicest, most sort of sensible people. You know, that was quite a political trick to pull off that Oliver Letwin is your big challenge.
And then of course it turned out that her new-found friends, the ERG and Boris Johnson and whatever, were not her friends at all. So she kind of got rid of- she lost all the support from the people who should have been her closest allies.
You know, politics is- you’ve got to constantly be thinking, “Where is- what’s my coalition of support here? How can I maximise it?” Not, “How can I minimise it?” And you know, again you saw with Liz Truss telling Grant Shapps, you know, “You’re the best Minister in this Cabinet, but there’s no place at the inn.” And then five weeks later on your last day in office, “Please can you be my Home Secretary?” You know, it’s-
Andy Coulson: It doesn’t really work.
George Osborne: It doesn’t work. And I’m sort of constantly surprised that people make the mistake again and again and again. I hope that whoever the new Prime Minister is, they kind of learn either from their predecessors or in the case of one of them from their previous time as Prime Minister.
Andy Coulson: [1:10:27] So George, we’re short of time. I’ve taken up far too much of yours with this conversation. I did want to talk about newspapers but perhaps there’s time for that on another occasion. A slower moving crisis, the world of print media.
I’m going to ask you the obvious question. You know, it’s the age of crisis as we’ve been discussing. It might also turn out to be the age of comebacks, it must cross your mind, I mean the route to it is not easy but not impossible in this mad world in which we find ourselves now. You’re a relatively young man, you would be going with bundles of energy and ideas, people have got a flavour of it in this podcast hopefully. Really? Not in your- not in the range of possibilities?
George Osborne: So, the truth is that you know of course there’s a lot of politics that I miss- a lot of things about politics that I miss, but it also comes at a very heavy personal price and it’s a bit- it’s completely all-absorbing and that’s what gives it a lot of satisfaction if you’re in the middle of it all. But it’s also- it’s only when you stop you also think, “God, that is actually a bit mad that my whole life was consumed by this- by this, you know, endeavour.”
And you know, having left politics there are lots of things I do, new avenues in terms of my career and my work, my family, I’ve got young children again, that all have made for a really, really nice life.
And I think to be a real player in British politics you have to be a Member of Parliament. You can’t be brought in as a sort of external, you know, like Mandelson was brought in to help Gordon Brown in the House of Lords. You know, the truth is the real game is in the House of Commons, as it should be, right? And I was right in the middle of that game. And I just can’t at the moment see myself becoming an MP again and giving up everything else I’ve got.
And I do think it’s a sort of thing in life, but you know, who knows, I’m only living one life and I’ve made lots of mistakes along the way. I look back on my time in politics with real affection that I enjoyed it, I worked with great people including you, and there was the team spirit you were talking about. And I think if I- going back, I’m not sure that would all exist again. I had a really golden time personally, and was very lucky to get to the near top and to work with a Prime Minister who had huge respect for me and I had huge respect for him, and as a result we were both stronger for it.
So it’s a bit like you know, if you’ve been a football star or you’ve been a movie starlet when you were in your 20s, not that I’m comparing myself to-
Andy Coulson: I was going to say, George.
George Osborne: Not that I’m comparing myself to any- but you know, if you’ve a kind of success young, you do have to kind of know how to move on from it and not think you can get back on the football pitch on back in the [inaudible 1:13:49] business. And I think in my- of the very many people I’ve met in my life both in politics but also actually in things like entertainment, the ones who can’t get over no longer being the centre of attention have very unhappy lives. Whereas the ones who say, “That was a wonderful, incredible experience, I’m so pleased I had it but I have moved on to other, equally interesting things that aren’t quite in the centre of attention in the same way,” you know, they are much happier. And I am much happier as a result, personally.
Andy Coulson: George, thanks for coming in. Thanks for joining us. That was a great conversation, and I hope also a useful one for people listening. I’m reasonably confident that that’s the case. Really appreciate your time.
I’m going to ask you the last question that we always ask. I’m going to ask you for your three crisis cures. These are three things that you sort of lean on in the tough times. It can’t be another person, and I’m also going to say to you that it can’t be Chelsea football club either. So what are your three crisis cures, please?
George Osborne: Well, I’m not sure this is exactly how you want the question answered but anyway. So the first, the real cure is you’ve got to create time, so you’ve got to find the time to solve the problem and ditch everything else.
I’m not going to name one person I would lean on because I don’t have one person, but bring in as many people as you can to the- I’m a great believer in phoning people up or seeing people and saying, “I’ve got this problem, what do you think?” Rather than keeping it all to myself. And then trying to get you know, that-
I guess the last thing would be a glass of red wine at the end of the evening, just to kind of like- you can’t go to bed so wound up that you don’t sleep and whatever, you need to just sort of take the pressure off yourself a bit right at the end of the day. Get some sleep and get up the next day and implement what you decided.
Andy Coulson: George, brilliant. Thanks so much for coming in, really appreciate it.
George Osborne: Thanks, what a great podcast. [1:15:58]