George Osborne and Joe Root strengthen their cases as future national leaders

This week two leaders and their possible successors were tested. Alistair Cook opened the batting for England in Cardiff, and David Cameron started for the Government at Westminster

Here are my notes made at the time, [8th July 2015] which have been slightly edited for clarity purposes.

11.00 am: Scheduled start to Cricket at Cardiff

England versus Australia cricket test series are contested symbolically for The Ashes. The sporting battles are much anticipated particularly in England and Australia. Here, Sky TV bigs up ts coverage months in advance. BBC competes valiantly through its much-loved Test Match Special radio coverage.

Cricket enthusiasts agree about the primacy of this contest among all cricket test series. Australia at the moment is much stronger than England in every aspect of the game, including captaincy. Somewhat unconvincing stories are produced exaggerated in the interests of journalistic license about excessive dislike between teams.

The pundits suggest that the Groundsman has prepared a lifeless pitch to counter Australia’s bowlers.

11.10:   Settled down in my seat as couch commentator Was concerned I may I have missed a wicket or two. Instead, I missed the singing of the third of three national anthems.

Yes, that’s right. Three anthems. Almost a trick question. The England and Wales Cricket Board were playing the first of the five test series in Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Hence there were renderings of Australia Fair, God Save the Queen, and Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of my Fathers).

From local knowledge of South Wales, I was not as surprised when unpredicted rain mischievously delayed start a little. The rain in Wales falls often in the vales.

11.15: England captain Alistair Cook wins toss and bats first. Young Lyth the other opener to face the first over.

11.25: After hitting one boundary, Lyth gives a catch to a grateful Australian slip fielder. Catch of a kind often spilled by England recently. Lyth replaced at crease by Ballance.

11.30: Goosebump time. Demon bowler Mitchell Johnson prepares to bowl . He destroyed England in last series. Pre-match hype has it that he has injured two of his own team in a practice session. However, pitch might be classified as a bit of a flat tracker. Johnson not quite as hostile as was feared. Both batsmen make a few false shots among authentic run scoring ones. Oz captain Clarke tries out his spinner Lyon.

Meanwhile at Westminster

The other leadership battle begins

12.00: Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) from Westminster on budget day.

Yes, I’m multi-tasking to commentate on the radio broadcast of PMQs. David Cameron is opening the batting for the Government, Harriet Harman is bowling for the opposition. Oh, here comes a sporting question from Harriet about more participation in sport. All gets a bit heated. Umpire John Berkow has to intervene.

Several questions follow on a fascinating procedural point about lack of consultation with an all party committee. The subtleties of the questions escape me.

12.15: Captain Cameron blocks her deliveries successfully. Back in Cardiff, Captain Cook cuts unsuccessfully at spin bowler Lyon. Caught at the wicket. 42-2. Arrival of the out of form Ian Bell.

12.20: Change of bowling in Westminster. An SDP player into the attack. Think she’s bowling a similar line of attack as HH was.

12.24: Back in Cardiff. Oops. Dismissal of Bell. England 43-3 I Resist puns about Bells toiling. England struggling at loss of early wickets.

12.25: another bowling change at Westminster. PM faces sneak attack from John Redwood against his own side. Cameron brushes aside the perfidious move.

The PM is preparing to retire undefeated and to hand over the batting to vice-captain George Osborne. This is to be his day as Chancellor to display all his leadership potential and technical skills.

12.30: Osborne arrives at the crease, swinging his bat confidently. Young Root doing same in Cardiff. Osborne and Root are seen as future leaders for their respective teams.

12.45: We must fix the roof when sun is shining says Osborne. Meanwhile, umbrellas come out at Cardiff. Can a rain break be far away? The demon Johnson re-emerges. Root hits first ball violently for four runs.

Osborne also continues to hit out strongly against opposition.

13.00: The session ends at Cardiff. 88-3. Root is batting confidently. Osborne is also batting on serenely at Westminster.

Reflections on the sessions

Leadership is a stressful business. Today we witnessed the inevitable pressures induced when possible successors are identified and put under the spotlight.

Alistair Cook has struggled to preserve form. He has already been replaced as captain of limited- over internationals. The younger Joe Root continues to fulfill the role of future captain, as deft in post-match interviews as in his exceptional batting.

David Cameron has taken much of the pressure of himself as Prime Minister by announcing his intention to stand down before the next election. There are several credible potential successors, including the charismatic Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and newly elected MP.

Today, Osborne seized his opportunity like any ambitious leader in waiting. His carefully crafted budget speech addressed several audiences. He proclaimed it as a major contribution to necessary economic and social change. It promised a cultural shift from a country of welfare to a country of work.

His somewhat triumphalist asides brought gasps of approval from his supporters. As the Chancellor sat down to rapturous applause, the Prime Minister patted him in a (literally) touching manner.

The verdicts

After the event, Root received unreserved plaudits for his performance.

Osborne’s claims were naturally put under closer scrutiny. His speech had appeared to justify his claims for its long-term innovative significance. In particular his changes to reducing benefits and raising the basic living wage were hailed as a creative master stroke for everyone. The right-wing blogger Fraser Nelson of The Spectator give an analysis that praised Osborne’s political skills, including ‘six policies that George Osborne has just stolen from Ed Miliband’.

The morning after the election, Ed Miliband said that his party had lost the election but won the argument. He was mocked for this observation but surveying Osborne’s summer budget, he may have a point. It was cleverly spun: the tax-cut for Middle England trumpeted this morning has turned out to be a run-of-the-mill 1.2pc revision to the 40p threshold, not even in line with earnings. Clever old George.

In fact, the first all-Conservative Budget for a generation has seen the Chancellor accept many of Labour’s arguments, moving to the left with a tax-and-spend budget and putting his tanks on the centre ground, facing leftwards.

The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) was cited in the speech justifying the overall rationale for the budget and its long-term claims. However, the IFS published its post-budget analysis which  showed that the biggest losers from the package were those in the second and third poorest tenths of the population.

Mr Osborne remains in high esteem among many conservatives for his leadership skills. He remains vulnerable to bowling attacks testing the straightness of his bat under pressure.

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