Osborne job raises questions over government advertising – Labour
MP to seek departments’ Evening Standard spend Blair backs ex-chancellor’s appointment as editor
George Osborne’s appointment as editor of the London Evening Standard while remaining a Conservative MP could represent a potential conflict of interest with government advertising budgets, Labour has said.
The row came as the former prime minister Tony Blair praised Osborne’s appointment, saying he hoped it would be a good move for the MP. “I don’t know if having both of those jobs is doable, but it’s a great thing for the Evening Standard,” Blair told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr show. “Why not? He’s a highly capable guy and it’ll make politics more interesting.”
The former shadow cabinet minister Clive Lewis will table questions in parliament today to each government department asking the amount they have spent on advertising with the newspaper since 2010, as well as spending plans.
The Treasury, where Osborne was chancellor for six years, had the largest budget for newspaper advertising of any government department in the last financial year, spending more than £2.6m in the Daily Mail, Sun, Daily Mirror, Times and Guardian titles alone, according to the department’s own figures from December. The Evening Standard was not included in the figures.
“It is not just about the obvious political conflicts of interest but the commercial interests involved as well,” Lewis said. “I am demanding that the government tell us just how much the Evening Standard earns in advertising revenue from them, and especially from the former chancellor’s old department, the Treasury.
“There are a real questions to answer, but Osborne has brazenly flouted the rules by applying for, accepting and announcing a new job before the ethics watchdog could investigate and sanction it. I would urge them to refuse permission for him to take up the role, at least until there is time to properly consider these questions.”
Lewis will write to the ministerial appointments watchdog to ask it to clarify the timing of Osborne’s application for permission to accept the role.
Friends of Osborne including his former special adviser Rohan Silva indicated over the weekend that the former chancellor had applied for the job in early February and accepted a fortnight ago. The advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba), which considers any conflict of interest in new jobs for former ministers and former senior civil servants, said it was only contacted last week, just days before the appointment was announced.
Osborne has previously been rebuked by Acoba for announcing his Northern Powerhouse initiative before seeking the committee’s advice. At the very least, he is likely to be similarly criticised by the watchdog for the timing of the Evening Standard announcement, but it does not have the power to prevent appointments.
“Osborne was already shown the yellow card by the committee for his first offence,” Lewis said. “They have rebuked other officials for this, and there can’t be a double standard. This time they need to get the red card out. The former chancellor has shown total contempt for the rules, so Acoba now needs to show that those rules can and will be enforced.”
Osborne’s decision not to resign as MP for his Cheshire constituency, which is almost 200 miles from London, could prompt an overhaul on second job rules.
Lord Bew, chair of the committee on standards in public life, told the Sunday Times: “We have not ruled out MPs having second jobs quite deliberately until now, but we now have to look again at our rules.”
Evgeny Lebedev, a Russian oligarch’s son who owns the Standard as well as the Independent, derided his new editor’s critics as “sad old commentariat” and said they should wait to see Osborne’s first paper before judging his work.
George Osborne’s hiring as editor could lead to new rules on MPs’ second jobs