Wednesday, 3 May 2017

How Ethical Are George Osborne's Career Changes?

by Mark Docherty

(wiki commons)
David Cameron’s Chancellor of the Exchequer has recently made the high-profile career change from Member of Parliament to Editor of the London Evening Standard.  Understandably, this has caused some raised eyebrows, in no small part due to the fact that he was originally planning on carrying out his new role in addition to his job as an MP.  Theresa May’s decision to call a general election allowed Osborne to do regain some credibility by announcing he would not be running as an MP is June, but that does not change the fact that he has been undertaking four jobs in addition to being an MP for a number of months.

He has been undertaking a speaking role at the Washington Speaker’s Bureau, has chaired the Northern Powerhouse programme, an advisory role at Blackrock Investments (earning £650,000 per year), and a job at the McCain Institute.  All this was happening while he was working as the MP for Tatton, and he was initially planning to add being Editor of the Evening Standard to his workload.  This made people question his commitment to the role as MP as they argue that Osborne would be unable to fulfill his duty to constituents as he would need to be spending so much time on his other responsibilities.  Not only would his time have been very stretched, but he was also earning vast amounts of money in his various roles; so much so that he is now a millionaire.  Those who are opposed to the Conservative party - or even those who simply feel disillusioned with out of touch politicians - would have a fair point in saying that a mega-rich MP is not going to have shared priorities with his constituents.

Not only would his constituents be aggrieved at not having Osborne’s full attention, but they will have had even more reason for ill feeling towards him after he took a job in London and expressed views that he was committed to the people of London, which is over 130 miles from his Tatton constituency.  It will have felt like a betrayal for much of the north of England after Osborne claimed to be the champion of the north, chairing the Northern Powerhouse committee and calling for powers to be transferred from the capital to cities such as Manchester.  The people of Tatton, as well as the north as a whole, can be disappointed in their ex-representative that he saw fit to walk away from them to pursue his own interests, especially seeing as he suggested that the interests of the north were not as close to his heart as he had led them to believe.

It is widely regarded that one of the reasons for Osborne deciding to take the editing job is to get revenge on Theresa May.  Mrs May sacked him from the Cabinet on taking over from David Cameron and Osborne, who was a long term ally of Cameron, did not take kindly to being demoted to a lowly backbencher.  In addition to feeling that being a backbencher didn’t fulfill his ambitions, he is likely to use his new role to criticise Mrs May for robbing him of his old job and, sure enough, the first edition of the Evening Standard under his leadership attacked May’s election campaign, saying “the election campaign comes down to no more than a slogan.”  This obviously refers to the Conservatives’ repetition of the phrase ‘strong and stable leadership’ and could be the first of many digs at the Prime Minister as he tries to use his new role in the media to damage her reputation.

In my opinion, there should be clear limits on the number and scale of jobs MPs should be able to take in addition to their job in Parliament.  When a candidate is elected as a Member of Parliament they are effectively volunteering to sacrifice their own careers and ambitions outside of politics for the next five years so that they can best serve the country and their constituents, so I do not think they should have the option of taking on a host of extra jobs, or to be able to walk out on their electorate to pursue another career at any time.  It is different when somebody like Zac Goldsmith resigned as the MP for Richmond Park, as he did it in the name of his constituents in a purely politically motivated move rather than in order to serve his own ends, but for Osborne to just decide to stop representing his constituents so he can become a journalist is, in my view, disrespectful to the people of Tatton.

For me, there is absolutely no question about it: George Osborne has been in the wrong since he started taking jobs in addition to his role as an MP.  I could turn a blind eye to him taking one additional speaking role as long as he remained committed to his primary job, but to rack up so many extra jobs before leaving his post altogether is shows a complete disregard for the constituents who voted for him to represent them in the House of Commons.  He will now be serving his own ends both financially and in getting his own back on Mrs May, and I don’t think any MP should be able to show such a clear lack of faith to their constituents without fear of repercussions.

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