In previous eras and in pre-Christian cultures, it was widely believed that the vicissitudes of fate were explained by arbitrary movements of the wheel of fortune. In recent centuries, less superstitious, we have become more confident in linear progress. But the events of the past few months almost bring the wheel back into fashion.
Eighteen months ago, there were two successful politicians at the heart of government, in the prime of life: their combined age was still under one hundred. For years, they had been friends and colleagues. They had risen together and the inevitable strains of high office had only strengthened the bond between them. It seemed certain that they would have a dominant role for years to come. Now, they have both left the House of Commons.
David Cameron had been the youngest Prime Minister since 1812. But after his resignation, there was a sense that he had closed a chapter in his life. He is a man who does not believe in wasting time over futile regrets. Events had forced upon him the necessity of finding other things to do – so he would.
George Osborne had been the third youngest Chancellor ever. First in the list came the Younger Pitt, who was the youngest everything, but made up for it by dying at the age of 46. Second came Randolph Churchill. He was only Chancellor for four months and did not deliver a Budget. George Osborne had a six-year innings in difficult circumstances, a qualification, surely, for further high office, perhaps as Foreign Secretary – or for the top job.
At least for the time being, that will not happen. Unfortunately for him, he left office at a bad moment. Thus far at least, the Treasury’s warnings about the dangers of Brexit have not been vindicated. Equally, for those wishing to write Mr Osborne’s political obituary, there…