A PARLIAMENTARY watchdog is to scrutinise MPs’ second jobs following the announcement of former chancellor George Osborne’s appointment as editor of the London Evening Standard.
The pledge from the chair of the Committee for Standards in Public Life came as controversy continued to mount about Osborne’s latest job. Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said she did not see how he could juggle the role with being an MP, while former prime minister Tony Blair defended the appointment.
Davidson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme: “I spent 10 years as a journalist and I’ve now spent six as a politician and I’m not sure I could combine them both. I’m not sure I could do both at the same time if I’m honest.”
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Blair told the same programme: “I don’t know if having both of those jobs is doable, but it’s a great thing for the Evening Standard. Why not? He’s a highly capable guy and it’ll make politics more interesting.”
Osborne, who is MP for Tatton, in Cheshire – 200 miles from London – is paid £77,000 as a backbencher. He is the unpaid chair of the Northern Powerhouse partnership; adviser to US investment group BlackRock, for which he receives £650,000; a Kissinger fellow at the McCain Institute in the US which is worth £120,000; an after-dinner speaker for which he can expected to receive £780,000 (based on figures in the register of members’ interests); and Evening Standard editor, which will earn him A further, handsome six-figure salary.
Former education secretary Nicky Morgan defended Osborne’s new job, and said if the standards committee was going to ban MPs from having outside jobs, “we’re going to have to stop MPs being ministers”.
She claimed Osborne had been “a very good constituency MP while he was chancellor”, and added: “We want talented, interesting people to take on these big jobs.”
Morgan said the appointment proved there was still an appetite for liberal conservative voices.
She told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “When you are fired, as we all were last summer, what did the government expect? That we were going to all just disappear?
“We are going to make our voices heard, whether it’s me writing articles, or George being editor. There’s a liberal conservative point of view to be talked about and we are going to do that.”
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock took a less charitable view, telling the programme: “When I first read this I thought it was fake news and sort of choked on my cornflakes. I think it’s completely unsustainable. One of the worrying things is: ‘will the Evening Standard become the propaganda arm of the Conservative Party?’ Conflicts of interest all over the place.”
However, crossbench peer Lord Bew, who chairs the parliamentary watchdog – which will discuss Osborne’s new post on Thursday – said the current rules “were getting into rockier waters”, following Osborne’s decision not to resign as an MP.
“We have not ruled out MPs having second jobs, quite deliberately, up until now, but we now have to look again at our rules,” Bew said.
“We are going to discuss whether our rules on second jobs need to be changed in light of this.”
SNP MP Tommy Sheppard, who sits on the committee, said there was a “broad agreement” that an additional job had to be something that “demonstrably doesn’t prevent you doing your first job as an MP”.
“You cannot edit the Evening Standard and represent your constituents in any meaningful sense,”
he said. “How many votes would you miss in the Commons, for example? It beggars belief.”
John Nicolson, the SNP’s media spokesman, said he could not see how Osborne could be an MP, a banker and an editor simultaneously. “He also says he will speak up for London and will oppose the Government if it does something against London’s interests,” Nicolson said.
“This raises the interesting prospect of him lambasting the Government in print in the morning as an editor then going off as a whipped MP to vote for the same policy in the afternoon.”
GMB union official Neil Derrick said: “You couldn’t make it up. It takes MPs having second jobs to a whole new level. It’s almost beyond belief that while representing a northern constituency, he’s taking another job at a London newspaper.”
Labour MP Andrew Gwynne, the party’s elections chief, has raised concerns about the potential for conflicts of interest in a letter to the Cabinet Office.
Clive Lewis, a former shadow business secretary, has written to the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba), urging it to rebuke Osborne for accepting the job before he had sought guidance.
Acoba is responsible for assessing any private paid roles taken by former ministers and civil servants in fields they regulated while in government.
Although it can offer guidance, including advice to delay appointments, it cannot prevent them. In this case, the appointment was announced before the Standard said it was seeking advice from Acoba.