George Osborne’s budget statement was heavy on policy, but it also contained a significant moment of politics, as the chancellor of the exchequer revealed who he sees as his real opponents.
Osborne has used past budget statements to fund different historical monuments, usually accompanied by an elaborate joke at the expense of the opposition Labour Party. Wednesday’s statement followed this tradition, with a key difference.
This time, the chancellor announced money to restore a World War II Royal Air Force command bunker. He said the idea came from London Mayor Boris Johnson, who cheered in response.
But as Osborne carried on, it became clear the compliment was backhanded. “I want to thank the new member, my Honourable Friend for Uxbridge, for bringing to my attention the dilapidated state of his campaign bunker,” he said referring to Johnson, who was elected to the House of Commons in May. The renovation, he said, would commemorate “the days when aeroplanes flew freely over the skies of West London.”
This was a dig at Johnson’s opposition to expanding Heathrow Airport, which the mayor seemed to take in good heart. Still, Osborne’s decision to target his joke not at Labour but at Johnson hinted at the real political battle to come. Johnson and Osborne are the frontrunners to succeed David Cameron as prime minister before 2020.
Following the budget speech bookmakers cut the odds on Osborne taking over and lengthened those on Johnson. Osborne is now the favorite with Ladbrokes Plc.