The Chancellor of the Exchequer is seen by many as everything wrong with politicians; a man seemingly more concerned about headlines and public opinion rather than principles and doing what is necessarily best for either the people he serves or the country itself. Although a less scary prospect than real right-wing Tories who could be in his place (see Boris Johnson and Liam Fox as mild examples), I see him as a man who cares more about playing politics and gaining power rather than what is the interest of the country or even his own party. I often joke to my friends calling him “THE Master of Puppets”. Then it got me thinking, George Osborne is rather similar to Frank Underwood in House of Cards in his political operation. Both seem to believe in the idea of ruthless pragmatism, both seem to manipulate every political situation to their advantage and both care little for ideology. Some people may say “aren’t all politicians like that” which to a degree they would be right, but to me the majority of politicians still roughly follow a proper ideology other than pragmatism, while Osborne is different as that he doesn’t seem to me to follow any particular ideology.
Let’s see a comparison of the fictional character to the real man.
The evidence is clear, it was he who advised Nick Clegg that for the sake of the coalition the Lib Dems must vote for the rise in tuition fees, a move which would lead to the breaking of trust between the Lib Dems and the electorate and the collapse the party at the next election. This move was then consolidated by the Conservative Party claiming responsibility to all the originally Liberal Democrat policy within the coalition, which you can suspect would be a move Osborne would have had some part in. This is very much the type of manoeuvring seen in House of Cards from Kevin Spacey’s character, making certain enemies or political rivals take steps to ensure their own downfall and moving himself up the food chain. In the coalition government, Clegg was the one man between Osborne and the number two position in government to Cameron, in these swift steps we can see Osborne climbing the food chain not through policy, although his austerity policy was at the forefront of the government agenda; but by a ruthless pragmatism.
When coming to austerity, even that appears to be one whole political game. Throughout the coalition government and in the build up to the 2015 General Election, the rhetoric from the Conservatives and Osborne’s economic strategy in particular was doom and gloom, deeper austerity. As soon as this rhetoric had helped scare floating voters away from Ed Ball’s lighter austerity led policy and help lead the Conservatives to a majority, Osborne suddenly produced a budget which had strikingly took many elements from the Labour manifesto and economic policy compared to what was expected. In effect, Osborne; through pragmatism and pragmatism alone, had forced one of his parties main competitors to betray its voters, and forced the other to back itself into a corner where it was either going to have to admit that it agreed with the government’s policy, or reject it and look unelectable. This political manoeuvring also has made Osborne become the popular choice to become the next Conservative leader, suggesting that this pragmatism has paid off for George like it did for FU in House of Cards.
Then there is Osborne’s relationship to Cameron in this current government and Underwood’s relationship with the President in Season two of the Netflix Series. In the show, Underwood gets President Woods into a relationship where Woods trusts Underwood with almost every advice given, and ends up being advised into his own downfall. Osborne can be seen frequently being called on from Cameron for advice to the extent that the opposition have began to start to call him out for it. It may not be a surprise that Cameron is likely to step down as leader at the end of this parliament, to the likely endorsement of Osborne as leader and with the Conservatives in a position of power not seen since the 1980s. It appears that through the ideals of Ruthless Pragmatism and possibly a lust for power, Osborne is very much Frank Underwood in the flesh, and certainly the master of puppets pulling the strings.