George's Big Tent
The Chancellor lures a Labour grandee into the government fold
On the eve of the last Conservative conference, one of the Tory birds flew the nest to UKIP. This year, George Osborne has managed to give shelter to a migratory bird of his own, with news that former Labour minister Lord Adonis will head up a new Infrastructure Planning Commission. Osborne wooed through flattery by merely enacting one of Lord Adonis's own policies. Meanwhile, the attraction of having hands on the levers of power proved too alluring for one of Labour's proven policy thinkers. For those involved in the policy area, the creation of an independent infrastructure commission has always proved popular because infrastructure needs to live outside the five-year political cycle. And Adonis has his work cut out. He will have to advise a decision on the expansion of either Heathrow or Gatwick before Christmas and will have to get Hinkley Point C and High Speed Rail at least out of the starting blocks.
This announcement sets the tone for what today is all about: George Osborne. He will dominate the main news agenda, with snippets of his speech rolling on the news channels all day. But that does not mean some of the same old arguments are not taking place behind the scenes. The EU referendum continues to bubble away, with debate starting to heat up on the more politically-attuned TV shows and among commentators. What is so surprising is how few fringe events there are on the subject. Conservative high command has obviously taking the decision to try and put a lid on it, at least for this year. The EU’s presence is limited to a few flyers outside. Like Trident at Labour, could this be the issue that creeps up and dominates the finale of conference?
The other bit of intrigue that is likely to dominate frivolous bar chat is who is on manoeuvres to be the next leader. With Cameron already announcing that he will stand down, he has started the longest leadership race in modern times. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan kicked things off by making her intentions known in the weekend newspapers. Watch this space for other rumours over the next three days. This may seem like navel-gazing, but that is what conference is all about. It just seems that one of the future leadership frontrunners would rather his efforts to play statesman prevail over political introspection today.
By Douglas Mcilroy
Photograph: Rt Hon George Osborne MP