Profile: George Osborne
The political career of the man many believe is destined to be the next chancellor is in the balance.
George Osborne, who has shadowed first Gordon Brown and then Alistair Darling in the Treasury since May 2005, faces a media storm over allegations he discussed a donation with Nathaniel Rothschild and Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.
If his actions in Corfu cost him his job it will be a devastating blow against a man who until now has enjoyed a textbook rise to the commanding heights of his chosen political party.
That party was always going to be Conservative. Mr Osborne, born in London in May 1971, received a classic English public school education at St Paul’s in London. It was there young Gideon decided to drop his first name, preferring one of his middle names instead. It was a clever decision and he later claimed his life was made “easier” by the move. A career in politics beckoned, you might think.
There were no immediate indications of this as he went up to Magdalen College in Oxford, however. There his membership of the Bullingdon club – an exclusive society limited only to the super-rich and aristocrats – would cause him political headaches in the future and hangovers in the present. He also spent much of his time busy with Isis, the university magazine, which he joint-edited.
After a brief spell as a freelance journalist after leaving university Mr Osborne joined the Conservative research department in 1994, becoming head of its political section. His meteoric rise following this strong start in post-university life is well-documented: special adviser at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for the final two pre-Blair years in government, then political secretary to William Hague’s opposition leadership for New Labour’s first term.
It was during the 2001-05 term that Mr Osborne emerged as a key figure in the ‘Notting Hill set’, a group of urbane bright young things gathering under Michael Howard’s wing in west London. All its members vigorously denied the existence of any such clique, but its existence and rise were undeniable. David Cameron emerged as Mr Howard’s successor and – in 2005 – Mr Osborne was chosen as the next shadow chancellor. He was just 33.
His youthful looks may have contributed to his ‘Boy George’ nickname, but the origins of that unfortunate soubriquet had more sordid surroundings. A female ‘friend’ of the young Mr Osborne produced pictures of him allegedly taking cocaine in 1993. They were forcefully denied, of course, and never proven. The nickname stuck.
Perhaps his greatest political coup came in the autumn of 2007, when – with Labour riding high in the polls – his speech to the Conservative conference unveiled popular taxation policies on inheritance tax and stamp duty which proved instrumental in making Gordon Brown think again. Since then his political stock has risen with that of his party, making him one of the most important figures in Westminster as he boarded Mr Deripaska’s Queen K yacht this summer.
The current crisis he faces will see that stock lowered. Mr Cameron will be seeking to avoid a crash for the next few days at least. And he will wait until the last possible moment before conceding one of his most important lieutenants. For now, after so many years of careful work, the shadow chancellor faces a fight for survival. It is not yet clear whether he will succeed in escaping from the growing political storm closing in around him.