The Budget: George Osborne’s chance to win back the spotlight

Less than 12 months ago, even the most generous bookie on the planet would have given George Osborne very short odds on being next Tory leader.

Straight after the election, all roads led to Number 10 for the Chancellor. He could almost do no wrong. He’d overseen an economic recovery. He’d overseen a Conservative electoral victory. And, perhaps most importantly, he held the Tory Party machinery in an iron fist. Fast forward to March, and the situation seems rather different. The Chancellor, despite holding one of the great offices of state, has been uncharacteristically muted of late. In contrast, his perceived competition for the Party leadership have been front page fodder.

Boris Johnson is often described as David Cameron’s great rival. But in reality, BoJo is Osborne’s Conservative nemesis. Both are the men who would be king. And with David Cameron once again reminding the public that he’s likely to have handed back the Downing Street keys by 2020, attention once again turns to who his successor might be.

A poll of Conservative party members recently found that a third wanted Boris as the next leader. And the London Mayor (and MP for Uxbridge) has been suitably vocal in recent weeks, championing the Brexit cause. Many question whether this is merely out of political expediency and a means of kicking off a run at the leadership. Whether you believe it or not, one thing’s clear. For the last several weeks, Boris has been holding court.

Next week the Chancellor presents his Budget, getting the chance to wrest the spotlight away from BoJo. And with attention on him, it’s difficult to imagine Osborne not taking the opportunity to try the odd rabbit from a hat. He still has tremendous influence over the Party machine. His supporters remain strategically placed in Parliament and within the Cabinet. Now is the chance to re-emerge from the shadows of Messrs Johnson and Cameron, and show himself – again – to be a Prime Minister in waiting.

Yet the apparent and comparative quiet from the Treasury in recent weeks could be a brilliant ploy on Osborne’s part. Both David Cameron and Boris Johnson have gambled for high stakes on the EU referendum. The Prime Minister is effectively putting his political legacy on the line. The London Mayor has more or less staked his political career and lifelong goal on winning the referendum. By staying, in the main, out of the glare of the EU debate, Osborne could be keeping his proverbial powder dry. He’s on record as backing continued membership of the EU. But he might be happy to remain out of the thrust of battle. If his side win, David Cameron will take the plaudits but Boris’s leadership aspirations will almost certainly be over. And if the Prime Minister loses, the Chancellor will not be irreparably damaged.

Boris has hogged the spotlight for the last few weeks. But don’t lengthen the odds of George Osborne succeeding David Cameron just yet.