Tom Richmond: Why has George Osborne not resigned? The Chancellor is bankrupt
IS this it? The Chancellor of the Exchequer goes missing in action at a time of profound economic and political crisis and finally emerges, after 72 hours, to effectively say '˜steady as she goes'.
It will not wash. Though David Cameron had the humility to fall on his sword with a degree of dignity after Britain voted for Brexit, the positions of George Osborne - and Business Secretary Sajid Javid – are no longer tenable.
They must be given their P45s with immediate effect rather than dragging out their inevitable departures from high office until October when the Tory party membership, an electorate not entirely representative of the whole country, picks Mr Cameron’s successor.
Though Mr Osborne’s hastily arranged statement was intended to reassure the international money markets as the value of sterling slumped to a 30-year low, he revealed himself to be at his slick and disingenuous worst.
His warnings of economic Armageddon if Britain’s left the European Union? ‘Not me Gov’ as Mr Osborne deftly tried to shift the blame. “I made a series of predictions...rather the Treasury made a series of predictions which I agreed with,” he said lamely.
What about the emergency revenge Budget that, thankfully, has not come about? That will not be until the Autumn when a new Prime Minister is in place.
And is a pro-EU Chancellor the best person to negotiate Britain’s way out of this unholy mess when his judgment has been rejected by the electorate? Mr Osborne thinks so. His intention is to play an active part in Brexit negotiations. Can you trust him or believe any utterance that he makes?
Having aligned himself to David Cameron for the past 11 years, this smacks of the Chancellor wheedling his way into the confidence of Boris Johnson, the clown-in-chief and political court jester tipped to become our next PM, rather than accepting a shred of personal responsibility for failing to make a sufficiently convincing case in favour of EU membership.
This vacuum at the top cannot continue – this is not a time for shrinking violets and it is imperative that politicians stop the defeatist talk, work out a plan of action after Lord Kerslake, the former head of the Civil Service, said Whitehall officials were “not equipped” to deal with the repercussions and reach out to all those young voters who have grown up as Europeans and feel betrayed by the outcome.
After all, the most important word of all in the new Britain – skills – has not even been mentioned. It’s just one of countless issues which can be addressed before the next PM triggers Article 50 - the formal process which kickstarts exit negotiations between Britain and the EU.
As Mr Cameron, the lamest of lame duck PMs, faces the humiliation of being excluded from the second stage of this week’s summit of EU leaders, he is so weak that he can’t bring himself to get his Government in order for the critical hours, days, weeks and months ahead.
This is a moment of a national crisis and not a time for political games of cat and mouse that have become the Chancellor’s modus operandi as he increasingly resembles TS Eliot’s mystery cat Macavity.
So visible when it suits him, he, once again, became the invisible man. Unlike Mr Cameron, and Bank of England governor Mark Carney, the Chancellor was nowhere to be seen on Friday as the economy took a battering. Just a couple of perfunctory tweets late in the day.
It was the same over the weekend – silence other than one social media message congratulating Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, on announcing she was in a same-sex relationship.
And, don’t forget, it was the same after the Budget when Mr Osborne disappeared from view and had the temerity, as he has done on so many previous occasions, to send David Gauke, the Exchequer Secretary, to Parliament to make the emergency statement that Labour had demanded from the Chancellor.
Yet what about Mr Javid who had calculated, misguidedly, that he could become Chancellor under an Osborne premiership which is now about as likely as Scotland winning the Euro 2016 football tournament (the Tartan Army didn’t even qualify).
He blamed the Chancellor’s worst case forecasts on the “emotion” of the campaign before saying: “If we all work together, we can avoid many of the things that were forecast.”
Emotion? This is tantamount to saying the Chancellor was being reckless and irresponsible.
When Mr Javid was asked, for example, if he meant what he said about falling house prices, Mr Javid could not provide a convincing answer.
Already under fire for being asleep on the job as the UK steel industry collapsed, and having sanctioned plans to shut the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills regional office in Sheffield, I don’t hold up much hope when he has a round-table meeting with business leaders – neither Mr Javid or the bankrupt Chancellor appear to have planned for a Brexit vote which makes it even more inexcusable that they’re still in post.
Of course, some will argue that the Government is undergoing enough upheaval that a reshuffle is an unnecessary distraction at this turning point in political history.
Though I respect this view, I disagree – it is unbecoming of both George Osborne and Sajid Javid, and sets an appalling example to others, that they have not had the good grace and decency to resign.
The longer they remain in office, the more diminished they are and the harder it will be for the new Government – and next Prime Minister – to unite a country that has never been more divided.