It is said, for example, that when the government is in difficulty and MPs are called in for pep talks, Osborne impresses them with knowledge of their constituency issues and policy hobby horses. He asks what he can do for them; the prime minister reminds them of what they are expected to do for him. George procures loyalty, Dave demands it. (Theseasoning of marginal seats with new roads ahead of the autumn statement is proof that it pays to have the chancellor’s ear.)
But there is more to Osborne’s attentiveness than vote-buying. He has an intellectual curiosity and a strategic interest in the future of conservatism that is often camouflaged by a predilection for tactical gimmickry. He understands that the Tory “modernisation” project he and Cameron started in opposition failed because it came to be associated with niche liberal preoccupations: the environment, gay rights, overseas aid. That allowed traditionalists to cast the leadership as champions of snooty metropolitan elitism – a charge that fertilised the growth of Ukip.
The chancellor is indeed an urban liberal. He is a native Londoner and a believer in globalised capitalism as a wellspring of freedom and opportunity, not a scourge from which people need protection. He is also a pragmatic pro-European, arguing behind closed doors for a model of British membership of the EU as the lead player of an outer tier of countries spared the federalising momentum of the single currency.
Moderate Tories see Osborne as a bulwark against the drift towards full-bore anti-Brussels mania. “George is capable of showing some leg to the sceptics, but he doesn’t really have any truck with the anti-immigration rhetoric,” says one Osbornite MP.I remain to be convinced. But perhaps I am blinded by Osborne's obsession with tactical ploys and his indulgence towards hard right economics.