May 3, 2023 - 6:00pm

Former prime ministers and cabinet members can find it difficult, after leaving office, to abandon the political fray altogether. Take Gordon Brown, who is still, by an extraordinary force of will, at least nominally writing Labour’s constitutional policy

Now George Osborne has made an intervention of his own, this week recommending a ban on smoking and the imposition of punitive taxes on orange juice.

Whatever you think of that policy (and I won’t deny that I dislike it intently) is it not nonetheless a slightly weird point of emphasis, for a man who ran the Treasury for six years, when there are so many fundamental questions of economic policy up for debate?

This move isn’t atypical, either. Yes, Osborne sometimes chips in with some comments on business taxes. But the former chancellor — and, worryingly, current Chairman of the British Museum — is just as likely to make headlines praising the statue-topplers of Bristol.

Perhaps it isn’t so surprising. After all, one reason why the ghosts of the Thatcherite past fixate on issues such as tax and spending is that such policies were at the very heart of the Iron Lady’s political project. The same cannot be said of the Cameroons.

Cameroon conservatism might, in happier circumstances, have evolved into something more substantive. But just as the exigencies of the pandemic strangled the levelling up agenda in its crib, the crash destroyed the political climate for which “modernisation” had been bred.

Instead, Cameron and Osborne became the co-architects of austerity. But for all the talk about the “Big Society”, there was no vision of what a smaller state might actually look like, or which burdens the Government ought to let civil society shoulder.

The result was a wholly unstrategic programme of spending cuts which gutted the state without shrinking it — what has subsequently been dubbed “sh*t-state Toryism”.

With that in mind, perhaps it is not surprising to find Osborne spending his political afterlife striking bold poses against Conservative shibboleths such as opposition to the nanny state for the benefit of applauding progressives. Such behaviour was, in the end, all the Cameroon project really was.

The distinctly we-know-best flavour of public health politics (and its tendency to have its costs fall most heavily on the pleasures of the least well-off) is also a comfortable fit for the prosperous and patrician outlook of the old Notting Hill set.

And you can see why a man who otherwise delivered a botched austerity drive, fuelled the housing crisis with Help to Buy, and promised a “golden decade” of Anglo-Chinese relations, might want the sugar tax to be the thing for which most people remember him.

Henry Hill is Deputy Editor of ConservativeHome.