George Osborne, who notoriously said he would not rest until Theresa May was “chopped up in bags in my freezer”, obviously believes revenge is a dish best served cold.
The former chancellor – brutally sacked by Mrs May when she became Prime Minister – has waited nearly 18 months before returning to Westminster to give his verdict on the current state of politics.
And he didn’t hold back, claiming most Conservative MPs want a new leader before the next election and that Mrs May has made a “huge mistake” in ignoring the 48% who voted Remain in the EU referendum.
Now editor of London’s Evening Standard, Mr Osborne also claimed the Tories were becoming anti-business and anti-immigrant.
And he wouldn’t rule out a political comeback, either as an MP or candidate for London mayor.
He also had harsh words for Jeremy Corbyn, claiming that under a more moderate leadership Labour would be 20 points ahead in the opinion polls and on the “cusp of power”, instead of neck and neck with the Tories.
“Well, it’s good to be back!” said a tieless Mr Osborne as he rose to give a speech to MPs and political journalists after a lunch of seared salmon and grilled chicken in Parliament’s opulent Churchill Room.
He began in waspish form, telling his audience that now he’s a newspaper editor he has learned that:
- “Cross words” are not meetings of the Cabinet;
“Splash” is the front page lead and not an audition to join the Cabinet – a joke at the expense of newly-promoted Penny Mordaunt, who took part in a TV show in a swimsuit;
A “slip” is another edition of the paper, rather than a press conference by Boris Johnson.
After the jokes, his sharpest barbs against his former Tory colleagues came in answers to questions from journalists.
Asked about the “freezer” remark, Mr Osborne did not deny making it and said: “It taught me a few things about editorial conference meetings.”
On Theresa May’s future, he said: “The essential question is going to be – is there going to be a change of leadership in this Parliament?
“The Conservative Party parliamentary party assumes there will be, the Prime Minister has said nothing about that. And at some point that is going to come to a head.”
He added: “I would make the observation that it is the consensus view of the Conservative Parliamentary Party that the leadership should change. So at some point something will happen.”
Turning to Europe, he said Theresa May’s government risked turning the electorate against them if they listened to the demands of hard Brexiteers within the Conservative Party.
“Those who say we should only listen to the 52%, that the 48% should put up and shut up, should be told they are making a huge mistake,” he said. “A mistake we paid for heavily this June.
“You’ve got to be able to try and hold both and if you say to 48% of the country, decision over, we don’t want to hear from you again, 48% of the country will make their voice heard.”
Asked what would be worse for the UK, a Corbyn government or a hard Brexit, Mr Osborne replied: “I’m a Conservative voter and I am hopeful that, long before we get to the General Election, a Conservative government will be advocating a softer form of Brexit.”
On the likelihood of a hard Brexit, in what many Tory Euro-sceptics will no doubt dismiss as wishful thinking, he predicted: “I used to be a bit of an amateur chief whip and I don’t think they’ve got the votes.”
And on those Tory MPs who back a hard Brexit, he joked: “I think what’s quite interesting at the moment, and dare I say amusing, is that the rebels have become the Establishment and don’t really like it up ’em.”
On how the Conservatives are perceived, Mr Osborne warned his party: “If we present ourselves to the country as anti-modern, anti-immigrant, anti-urban, anti-Metropolitan, then huge sections of the country will be anti us.
“We saw that, frankly, at the last general election and we may see that again in the London elections in a few months’ time.
On a return to Westminster, Mr Osborne said: “I don’t rule it out, just because I think you can be foolish saying ‘never’ to things, but it is certainly not what I think I’m going to be doing with my life in the future.
“I very much enjoy editing the paper and for me, aged 46, having had 20 years in politics, I have discovered a new career in life and I am quite enjoying it.”
Then, asked about running for London mayor, he added: “When I said returning to politics that would include City Hall politics.”
But as well as his criticism of the Tories, Mr Osborne was also scathing about Mr Corbyn and the Labour Party, in particular over moves by Momentum activists to de-select moderate councillors in London and elsewhere.
And he claimed: “If the party was led by a more moderate social democrat, of even middling ability, they would now be 20 points ahead in the polls and on the cusp of power.
“Instead the Labour movement is consumed by an internal battle for its soul.”
But he said: “The fact that a fringe far-left Labour leadership is even in contention for national office is, I am afraid, a reflection of the state of the Conservative Party.”