This appeared in PR Week on 16 February 2016 and can be seen here.
George Osborne is known in some circles as the submarine Chancellor – he rises from the ocean for key political milestones, but returns swiftly under the waves, leaving his ministers to clear up the backwash.
Politically it can create problems for him as he doesn’t build the relationships he’ll need to become the party leader. But from a purely PR and ‘brand Osborne’ perspective, it’s proven to be quite an effective strategy so far.
Who can forget 2012 – the year of the Cornish pastie-shaped omnishambles Budget and of course the booing at the Olympics.
It’s since then that he’s seemingly taken on this naval persona.
But he’s clearly not been idle deep inside the Treasury – his makeover has stuck, he probably looks younger than he ever has, he’s survived several crises (mostly of his own making, to be fair), he brings a sense of humour to interviews that few other politicians manage (including his boss), and he seemingly becomes more confident as each crisis is survived.
However, the past few months will have been alarming for team Osborne – not a week has gone by without a negative story of some sort, whether it’s growth figures (down), the Sunday trading vote (lost) or this week’s projections for the EU referendum (too close to call).
And when a Chancellor’s team pre-briefs reforms to the 3:30 school bell as one of the highlights of the Budget, it does make you wonder if they’re really focused on the economy, or more on his future leadership ambitions and his popularity as a national figure.
He and his team are now back in crisis and recovery mode, as they were post-2012.
But this is a far more sensitive time in his tenure as Chancellor, deputy leader of the government (in all but name) and potential future prime minister.
So does today’s Budget provide him with a Trident-style boost to his naval artillery that will propel him to greater things?
This Budget was Osborne defining himself for his colleagues, political opponents and voters alike.
Conservative colleagues will be enthused by the SME-friendly policies on offer, and comforted by his ability to crack a joke in the main Chamber – this makes for excellent PMQs practice.
Likewise, the Labour Party will be unnerved by his claim to be delivering “socialism through Conservative means”.
Osborne’s tenure as Chancellor has not been lacking in grand ideas. Debt reduction, economic rebalancing and the Northern Powerhouse are his pet projects.
But while they may not have been successful in endearing him to the public, today’s Budget sought to change that by defining him as a pro-Europe, One Nation Conservative leader looking out for future generations with generous increases in ISA savings allowances and a supposedly mother-friendly tax on fizzy drinks.
But the buzz that we’re witnessing in the immediate hours after an Osborne Budget has been felt before, only for it to slowly sink, Titanic-like, as the icebergs emerge and his announcements are destroyed.
This time, though, with the Government stuck in a self-imposed four-month campaign on the EU referendum, he can’t afford to disappear – this could, after all, be his last ever Budget.