George Osborne: Britain's untested new finance minister

12th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's new finance minister George Osborne is bright and politically savvy but his youth and inexperience have caused concern that he will be ill-equipped to deal with the testing economic times.

The 38-year-old is a close friend and ally of Conservative leader and new prime minister David Cameron, and his appointment as Chancellor of the Exchequer is a reward for his help in modernising the party.

Like Cameron, Osborne has upper-class roots and was also a member of the elite Bullingdon Club, a rowdy dining society at Oxford University.

But both men have worked to update the image of the centre-right Conservatives, who have been in opposition since 1997.

As finance spokesman Osborne was behind one of the Tories' greatest coups, the announcement of a proposal to cut inheritance tax in 2007, credited with panicking then premier Gordon Brown into abandoning plans to call an election.

That decision marked the beginning of a slow decline for Brown's Labour party, culminating in their second-place finish behind the Conservatives in Thursday's general election which failed to produce an outright winner.

After five dramatic days of talks, Cameron announced Thursday he intended to form a "strong" coalition government with the centrist Liberal Democrats to tackle "deep and pressing problems" -- chiefly the huge public deficit.

Osborne will have his hands full as soon as he takes office -- the Tories made clear in the election campaign they intend to make immediate cuts in public spending of six billion pounds (seven billion euros, nine billion dollars).

While his political instincts are undoubted, there is concern that the man dubbed "Boy George" by his opponents and the press is unprepared for managing Britain's still fragile recovery from a deep recession.

Tory business secretary Ken Clarke, an ex-finance minister, appeared to betray his concerns about his colleague this year when he remarked he was working with a "young, inexperienced team".

But he received a boost when the business-friendly Financial Times and the Economist magazine both endorsed the Tories largely on the back of their economic plans.

Born in London in 1971, Osborne enjoyed a privileged upbringing. His father, Sir Peter Osborne, a baronet, founded the successful Osborne and Little fabrics company and the son's share is thought to be worth millions.

The eldest of four brothers and christened Gideon -- a name he dropped in his teens -- Osborne attended the private St. Paul's School before heading to Oxford, where he studied modern history.

His membership of the Bullingdon Club led to a now infamous photograph of members showing a smug-looking Osborne wearing a tailcoat and bow-tie, which is regularly reprinted as proof of his posh roots.

After Oxford, Osborne joined the Conservative Research Department and then worked as political secretary and speechwriter to former Tory leader William Hague -- now foreign secretary -- before being elected MP for Tatton in Cheshire in 2001.

He held several junior economics briefs before being appointed finance spokesman in May 2005 and reportedly had coaching to lower his voice to lend himself more gravitas.

Shortly afterwards, he came under fire after a newspaper published a photo of him with a former prostitute 12 years previously, standing in front of what looked like cocaine. He strongly denied any wrongdoing.

A bigger row broke out in 2008 when it emerged he was present at an attempt to solicit Tory donations from a Russian oligarch while on a yacht on holiday in Corfu. Osborne admitted "it didn't look good" but again denied wrongdoing.

He is married and has two children.

© 2010 AFP

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