George Osborne’s latest antics have led him back into the political spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The former chancellor has decided to “cash in” after leaving the government frontbenches and has been taking jobs from whoever offers one to him. Currently, he serves as a MP for Tatton but in addition to this, he currently holds five other positions. The main points of controversy are his jobs at BlackRock and his recent appointment as editor of the Evening Standard. There is a petition, started by 38degrees, calling for Osborne to resign as a MP and with it reaching over 180,000 signatures; it cannot be ignored.
Osborne defended his appointments to the House of Commons on Monday; he stated that these positions “enhance” his abilities as a MP. His current jobs include being a speaker at Washington Speaker’s Bureau, Chairman of the Northern Powerhouse, advisor to BlackRock, fellow at McCain institute, editor of London’s Evening Standard and finally MP for Tatton. Britain is a representative democracy, how is he able to represent his constituents in Tatton if he is now constantly basing himself in central London? His constituency lies in Cheshire, yet he argues that he is ability will improve as well as the debate in the Commons if he stays in London. The Evening Standard is a London newspaper and editing a newspaper is not as easy as Osborne seems to believe; “edit the paper in the morning and go to parliament in the afternoon”. It is no wonder why he is one of the most hated politicians in Britain, besides him being the face of austerity; he also carries a briefcase load of arrogance. The issue is not with his views and them colliding with the paper’s content, all newspapers have a bias and if the Evening Standard suddenly now suffers of this, it will not be a surprise. The issue is whether he can serve properly as a MP whilst juggling five other jobs at the same time.
His position at BlackRock is to serve as a part-time adviser, which Osborne insists, is only four days of work per month. Despite this, Osborne is rumoured to be earning a salary of £650,000 courtesy of the American-based investment firm. Unsurprisingly, Osborne has not received much support from his political colleagues who believe he has gone too far by accepting another job offer. However, David Cameron was quick to congratulate his former chancellor on his appointment saying that it was a “good move”. Cameron left politics after the EU referendum and is now the president of Alzheimer’s research UK. Cameron, however, was not the only former Prime Minister to back Osborne’s latest appointment. Tony Blair said on the Andrew Marr Show that the appointment was a “great thing for the Evening Standard”. Some MPs have not been as supportive as the former Prime Ministers, with one senior backbencher simply stating that Osborne was “taking the p***”.
There have been several cases in recent months where MPs have accepted new positions. In December 2016, Jamie Reed resigned to take up a new role in the nuclear industry, which resulted in Trudy Harrison’s infamous by-election win. Furthermore, the former shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt resigned in January so that he could become the Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Due to these recent resignations, it has now become an unofficial protocol that a MP is to resign if they are to take up a new and major post outside of politics. George Osborne has obviously missed the memo and insisted to carry out his parliamentary duties, even if they may suffer due to his new workload.
It is rumoured that Osborne applied for the job in early February and has known for over two weeks prior to it being publically announced. Due to this, Osborne is receiving a lot of heat from not only the public but also from ACOBA (advisory committee on business appointments). They have stated that they were only contacted last week, just days before the announcement was made. It is expected that the committee will advise Osborne to delay taking up the role, given that the announcement has already been made, this will be difficult. This is not the first time that the committee and Osborne have clashed; the former chancellor pushed forward his Northern Powerhouse initiative before seeking the permission from ACOBA. They may not have the power to stop Osborne in taking up the role; however the backlash he will face will only become more severe.
When confronted by Sky News last week, Osborne stated that he will “work hard” in order to carry out all of his jobs to the best of his ability. Osborne also mentioned how there have been several cases where MPs have edited papers/magazines whilst staying on as a MP, therefore he does not see a problem. However, in The Spectator’s Coffee House Shots podcast, Fraser Nelson (current editor at The Spectator) spoke about when Boris Johnson was editor and how he was incapable of balancing the workload whilst he was still a MP. Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, shares this view and recently stated that she could not see how he could juggle being a journalist and MP (not to mention his other jobs). Frankly, this is getting out of hand and Osborne needs to eat some humble pie because currently he is failing the people of Tatton and parliament.
Osborne refuses to recognise the potential conflict of interest in terms of opinion and reporting but also he underestimates the additional workload that is going to hit him come May, which is when he is to take up the editor position. It seems that Osborne has been applying and accepting jobs ever since he left government. Twitter was quick to pounce on this, with Osborne being photo-shopped as the new host of The Great British Bake Off, new Arsenal manager, new Top Gear presenter etc. Osborne needs to quickly realise that his first duty is to represent the people of Tatton, this is even more obvious now saying that he is no longer a minister. He is failing to do this and the backlash has been clear, if Osborne is not quick to defuse the situation, it will solidify his position as one of the most hated politicians in Britain.