In the two weeks since Britain voted to “Leave” the European Union, British politics has been more tumultuous than at any time in the recent past. David Cameron has resigned—and the race to succeed him as both leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister is well underway. Indeed, last week we ran a panel on who should replace him.
But while the conversation about who should lead the country has been constant, far less has been said on the matter of who should replace George Osborne as Chancellor.
Osborne joined Cameron in campaigning vigorously for a “Remain” vote, which presumably means he will eventually make way—voluntarily or otherwise—in the wake of the Brexit vote. Who should take his place—and why? Below, a panel of contributors including Vince Cable and Malcolm Rifkind offer their views.
Someone willing to challenge economic orthodoxy
Vince Cable, former Business Secretary
If Theresa is leader we shall probably get someone safe and sensible but unadventurous like Philip Hammond or Michael Fallon. Andrea Leadsom had a reputation at the Treasury as a very poor minister who thought she knew it all; she would probably bring in a maverick like John Redwood.
We desperately need someone who will challenge the Treasury doctrine which includes capital spending in the “deficit.” To my pleasant surprise my successor, Sajid Javid, has done just that with a proposed £100bn borrowing-to-invest package in order to counter the coming Brexit-induced recession. Ideally the next Chancellor would be a unifying, “one nation” Tory willing to challenge economic orthodoxy: a return to Ken Clarke or Andrew Tyrie.
I would go for Hammond
Malcolm Rifkind, former Foreign Secretary
I would be quite relaxed if George Osborne continued as Chancellor. He has been impressive, over the last six years, in his stewardship of the economy.
A Chancellor of the Exchequer needs to be tough, bright and willing to be unpopular. Edmund Burke once remarked that “To tax and to please is a power not given to man.” I assume Osborne now wants to move on. He would be a natural choice to do my old job of Foreign Secretary.
In current circumstances there are only two credible replacements. One would be Philip Hammond who would give up the Foreign Office. His success at the Ministry of Defence was in getting their budget and financial management back under effective control. Andrea Leadsom, if she does not get to No 10, would, also, be possible. She has been a Treasury Minister and would deserve a top job. On balance I would go for Hammond who has much greater experience.
Whoever becomes PM should appoint their rival
Rachel Cunliffe, Deputy Editor of CapX
Andrea Leadsom is too divisive to be Prime Minister, and her lack of cabinet experience is a huge red flag for Tory members seeking stability. But don’t rule her out as Chancellor. Here is a woman with two decades of financial experience, who, even with concerns raised about her CV, has had more interaction with how the City works than any other contender.
This could be just what the Tories needs to heal the deep rift of Brexit. It would be a smart move for Theresa May, a “Remainer,” to give an ardent “Leaver” the top job of managing Britain’s economy through such uncertainty. But if the polls prove wrong and it is actually Prime Minister Leadsom making the call, she could do much worse than Theresa May. Let’s not forget May started out in the Bank of England and worked as a financial consultant. Whichever woman wins the leadership contest should seriously consider uniting the party by appointing their rival as Chancellor.
Sajid Javid is willing to embrace post-Osborne thinking
Tim Montgomerie is a columnist for the Times
Since Britain voted to escape from the EU’s terminally dysfunctional structures only one senior minister has offered any serious policy ideas to help the economy through the uncertain period that was always likely before our new relationship with our European friends is established: the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid. In a sign that he is willing to embrace post-Osborne thinking he has suggested £100 billion of targeted infrastructure spending. He has also proposed a range of temporary tax incentives to maintain fragile business confidence.
He may have backed “Remain” before 23rd June but no other minister has taken a more business-like, “let’s now make this thing work” attitude to a result they did not want. He has also had talks with Australia, New Zealand, America and India about the new trade opportunities that Brexit has made possible. Not only is Sajid Javid equipped to be the next leader’s chancellor, there is no reason why he, Andrea Leadsom, Theresa May, the PM and Chancellor should not get around a table tomorrow and start implementing at least some of his ideas straightaway.
John Redwood has sheer ability
Simon Heffer, journalist, author and political commentator
Britain faces severe economic challenges not because of Brexit, but because of fundamentals wrong in our, the European and the global economy long before that word was invented. We not only need a fresh approach, but a radical one, and one executed by someone with the intellectual authority to take on the Treasury. The Conservative party has long had the habit of choosing someone without such intellectual heft to take on this vital job, because it always seems to matter more that his face fits rather than that he can do the job. A man whose face fits with none of the Conservative establishment is John Redwood, whose personal record at forecasting is far superior to that of the Office of Budget Responsibility. Redwood is the best Chancellor available in terms of sheer ability to do the job. No doubt that is a main reason why he won’t get it.
It must be about a long-term vision
Daniel Mahoney, Head of Economic Research at the Centre for Policy Studies
At a time of political and economic uncertainty, it is vital that the UK’s next Chancellor of the Exchequer takes note of some important historical lessons. Nigel Lawson and Geoffrey Howe—the two great reforming Chancellors of the 1980—saw Britain through a time of extraordinary political turbulence and economic challenge. Their success in turning the UK from “the sick man of Europe” into one of the most prosperous nations in the western world was based on implementing reforms that focused on the UK’s long-term economic interests. Short-term political considerations were not the priority.
The UK’s next Chancellor of the Exchequer must follow in these footsteps. That means rejecting the temptations of pork barrel politics and avoiding the trap of attempting to micro-manage the economy. Instead, the UK needs a true long-term economic vision. Whoever ends up as Chancellor, the long-term goals of boosting the UK’s competitiveness and radically simplifying the tax code must become centre stage from the start.