Os­borne job raises ques­tions over gov­ern­ment ad­ver­tis­ing – Labour

MP to seek de­part­ments’ Evening Stan­dard spend Blair backs ex-chan­cel­lor’s ap­point­ment as ed­i­tor

The Guardian - - NEWS - Jes­sica El­got

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

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