Ex-chancellor George Osborne savages old ‘frenemy’ Boris Johnson over his ‘optimism’ and urges him to emulate his hero Winston Churchill and be ‘realistic’ about the long-term impact of coronavirus
- Former chancellor said ‘real leadership is about being realistic’ in BBC podcast
- Said that Churchill was honest that fight against Nazis would take a long time
- Added: ‘Telling us the crisis is going to be over soon hasn’t really worked’
The former chancellor criticised Mr Johnson’s attempts to tell the British people that they faced a short battle against the pandemic, saying ‘real leadership is about being realistic’.
Mr Osborne, now editor-in-chief of the London Evening Standard, pointedly invoked Mr Churchill, saying that he did not deceive the nation during the war that the fight against the Nazis would be over quickly and easily.
Mr Johnson has previously attempted to tell the country that the worst of the coronavirus impact on their lives and the economy could be over by Christmas.
But the second wave of cases that has since hit the country has led to new localised lockdowns that many fear could last into the new year. There are also fears over the long term impact on the economy.
Mr Osborne, who was chancellor from 2010 to 2016 in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, told the BBC’s Newscast podcast: ‘There’s a broader point over which I would say the government needs to watch for which is a kind of optimism bias.
‘Boris Johnson is the great person who is supposed to cheer us up, and he’s a great – ‘boosterism’ and all of that – but you also have to be realistic.
And, you know, I think this constantly telling us the crisis is going to be over soon hasn’t really worked for the government.
The former chancellor criticised Mr Johnson’s attempts to tell the British people that they faced a short battle against the pandemic, saying ‘real leadership is about being realistic’
Mr Johnson has previously attempted to tell the country that the worst of the coronavirus impact on their lives and the economy could be over by Christmas
And they’re having to sort of get back into the much tougher political message which is it’s a long hard slog and essentially reintroduce the furlough scheme…’
Mr Osborne’s comments came at the end of a difficult week for the Prime Minister.
His administration was locked in a battle with Manchester leaders over a Tier Three lockdown financial package.
It has also faced criticism over failures in its test and trace system and a refusal to support efforts by England and Manchester United star Marcus Rashford to introduce free school meals during the school holidays.
Mr Johnson is also facing attacks from the right of politics over the UK’s growing debt mountain, with the Government borrowing more than a billion pounds a day in the first six months of the pendemic.
The PM and Mr Osborne are former political rivals. Mr Osborne stood alongside then PM David Cameron to support Remain, while Mr Johnson made a last-minute decision to support Leave.
Mr Osborne was later fired by Theresa May, who brought Mr Johnson back into Government as foreign secretary.
The PM has made no secret of his admiration for Britain’s wartime leader Sir Winston, who led the country from 1940 to 1945 and was known for his powerful rhetoric and speeches to the nation. He wrote a biography of the Tory idol in 2015, while mayor of London.
And Mr Osborne invoked this adoration today with a stinging attack, telling the BBC: ‘I think real leadership is about being realistic. And I know obviously Boris is a great fan of Winston Churchill and wrote a book about him.
‘You know, Winston Churchill did not say in 1940, ”We’re going to beat the Nazis in the next few months. We’re definitely going to win.”
‘He said, ”I’ve got nothing to offer but blood, toil, sweat and tears.” It wasn’t very optimistic, but it was realistic. And I think it, you know, played a very important part in national morale at that time.’