Theresa May Needs To Make it Clear: Osborne’s Outside Interests are Unacceptable
As he addressed staff, the former Telegraph diary contributor, who had made a few leaps of the cursus honorum to become editor, said: “I know how to run a country.”
This is true. The Right Honourable Member for Tatton served with distinction as Chancellor of the Exchequer for six glorious years; years that will go down in history as a Golden Age to rival that of Elizabeth. Britain knew untold prosperity and the government of which he was a member forged new, strengthened bonds with its closest allies. So great was his magnificence that the press coined the term “omnishambles” in recognition of his wise statescraft. So highly thought of was the Chancellor that when the current prime minister assumed office, she begged him to him to stay on in office. On her knees.
It was his natural modesty that made him relinquish his post. The prime minister was devastated and, rumour has it, never recovered.
Sorry, but Disclaimer does not have an irony font to equal the former Chancellor's usage.
It is fair to say that Twitter went into near-meltdown on Friday when it was announced that George Osborne was to become the next editor of the Evening Standard.
Any right-thinking person should remember Macaulay’s lament before they join in the chorus of outrage that social media forces. Yet, here those outraged have a point.
Osborne’s appointment, if not entirely indefensible, comes pretty damn close.
In the same sense that his ally David Cameron’s cavalier resignation honours list failed to recognise the havoc he left behind, there is something within Osborne's actions since his dismissal that smacks of entitlement. As such, although unexpected, it is predictable. No one expects sack cloth and ashes but humility would be a start.
How do Osborne's defenders think this is playing in households across the land?
The former chancellor’s latest job is his sixth. Already the highest-earning MP in 2016, his appointment as an adviser for Blackrock at £650,000 for four days work per month would have made Croesus blush. His new salary will be £200,000, itself almost eight times higher than the UK’s average wage.
Defenders have pointed out that MPs face their electors every five years. They also face their constituency associations. This is to assume a perfect system of accountability. Any MP standing at a general election might win as “better the devil you know” or because electors would prefer an absent Tory (say) to any Labour (or other) candidate.
Don’t voters deserve something better than a grudging vote? Moreover, don’t Osborne’s electors have a right to a say when he has changed the rules?
How do Osborne's defenders think this is playing in households across the land? I have seen no polling evidence on the subject, but would be surprise were his defenders to number double digits.
Guido Fawkes has already pointed out eight potential conflicts of interest. Labour has reported him to the Cabinet Office for breaching the ministerial code. His new role is not only well-paid it is one that many would consider incompatible with being an MP, inappropriate for an MP and also too consuming for an MP.
Whatever transpires, Osborne’s various jobs do not pass the test his friend, David Cameron, set during the expenses scandal. His stink fails the smell test.
Politics does not have a good reputation. The most extreme think politicians sacrifice babies during Satanic rituals in otherwise unassuming pizza parlours. A more reasonable proportion of the population is convinced of, at least, a soft corruption within parliament; worse that there is a revolving-door establishment that merely exists to feather its own nest. Osborne has just confirmed these suspicions.
Member of Parliaments have a responsibility to protect the democratic process
Clearly Downing Street was taken by surprise by his new job, a sign of the mischief he means to make for his nemesis. Here is there is a test for Theresa May. It might even be one that she enjoys.
The prime minister must make it clear that Osborne cannot keep on taking the Conservative whip: he has changed the contract upon which he was elected. She must also say that she will support the review on second jobs for MPs, and wants to strengthen Acoba (Advisory Committee on Business Appointments), at the moment too often too powerless. Were she to be truly brave she could link this with new powers for voters to recall MPs, or even suggest that MPs who have been censored as Osborne has been should face by-elections.
Her reputation for straight-talking politics and moral seriousness requires this.
Should MPs be allowed second jobs? Honestly, I do not know. The last thing we want is MPs cut off from interests outside the Westminster bubble. Voters have to keep a sense of proportion, however bad Osborne’s actions. According to the Register of Members’ Interest, roughly 100 MPs have “second jobs”. Not all are well-paid. Some include keeping up previous professional employment. We often forget that many MPs, on both sides of the house, make financial sacrifices to become politicians; often as candidates they pay large sums from their own pockets to campaign and visit their constituency.
Yet there is something - surely, it is still the case? - called public service.
If nothing is done - if he “gets away with it” - Osborne will show to many that MPs no longer have the ethical sense to exert self-control. Eventually, politics will reach another breaking point.
Member of Parliaments have a responsibility to protect the democratic process. They have to earn our trust, if you like. At times, when they vote on complicated issues, this becomes difficult. This case is simpler. It is not enough for MPs to ask themselves whether they are best serving their constituents, they must ask whether they are enhancing the reputation of democratic politics.
I wonder whether Osborne asked himself this question.
About the author
Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).
A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.
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