Open wide for a scrape with Mrs T
Uproar greeted the news that former Chancellor George osborne had added the editorship of the London Evening Standard to his ever-expanding portfolio, writes this column’s veteran political correspondent, Harvey Boreham.
But these critics seem to have forgotten quite how many top politicians have held down secondary jobs.
For instance, throughout his time as Deputy Leader of the Labour party, John prescott worked Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays as chief executive bouncer at Hollywood Nites discotheque in Hull.
‘It gave me a tremendous sense of responsibility’, he wrote in his autobiography. ‘I could make snap decisions as to who was in and who was out without having to consult my Cabinet colleagues.’ among senior Conservatives, Margaret Thatcher never allowed her prime Ministerial duties to interfere with her part-time position as a dental hygienist at a practice in nearby pimlico.
‘Scraping, scaling and polishing, often with brute force, is the most marvellous relaxation from the cares of high office’, she told Jimmy Young in 1987. ‘and what I always tell my patients is the more it hurts, the better I feel. I feel it my duty to impress upon them that they’ve only themselves to blame.’
other prime Ministers have taken on a mixed range of professions. For three years running, Theresa May won the prestigious Maidenhead parking Warden of the Year award, the judges praising her for her ‘diligent and nononsense approach’, to traffic enforcement, and singled out her ‘wholehearted refusal to sanction excuses, however reasonable’.
on taking up the prime Ministership last year, she resigned from her post as senior warden. ‘But I do like to keep my hand in, so I often take a detour from my official walkabouts in order to issue parking tickets on a casual basis,’ she told the BBC’s andrew Marr.
as an experienced estate agent, her predecessor, David Cameron, always took a break from Westminster to show customers around luxury homes in the Westminster area on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
‘I have a particular passion for what we call the top end of the market,’ he explained to Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs. ‘So I think our clients feel a very strong sense of reassurance when they discover that the man showing them around is also their prime Minister.’
When Cameron first entered No. 10 in 2010, he came across one or two tell-tale signs of Gordon Brown’s recent residency, including a black top hat still perched on the hatstand.
Brown had never let his career as an undertaker get in the way of his duties as prime Minister. He had insisted, for instance, that coffins be delivered to the back entrance, so that politicians and heads of state should not have to squeeze around them in the hall of No. 10.
He found the best way to avoid mixing up his two jobs was to treat all visitors the same.
Whereas other prime Ministers might greet visiting dignitaries with the words: ‘ Welcome to London,’ Brown preferred to put on a sombre face and say: ‘ My condolences on your sad loss,’ just in case.
George osborne’s predecessors as Chancellor had similarly varied secondary professions. Denis Healey was a High Street butcher, whilst Nigel Lawson was a circus ringmaster. For many decades, Norman Lamont’s bookmaker’s stall — ‘Honest Norman’s’ — was a much- loved feature at Chepstow and Towcester races.
Writing in Worth a punt, Lamont’s memoirs of his time in office, he said: ‘I always felt it was my duty as Chancellor to deliver major statements in person, regardless of the effect it may have on my livelihood.
‘I never feel I was given due credit for asking the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to take over the stall on Budget days.’
Kenneth Clarke is still a firm believer in politicians having other strings to their bow.
Clarke was, famously, lead vocalist with Ken’s all- Star Chatanooga Sunshine Band, and was the only Chancellor in recent history to deliver his autumn Statement to a boogie-woogie piano accompaniment.
In the present day, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, doubles up as a store detective. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn is in catering, running a successful wholesale shredded carrot stall at Camden Market on alternate Tuesdays, weather permitting.
‘ordinary, decent voters want to know that you have a successful life outside politics,’ he recently observed to The Shredded Carrot Traders Gazette.