I must admit upfront a sneaking sympathy for George ‘Gideon’ Osborne, the former British chancellor, Robin to prime minister David Cameron’s Batman, and latterly editor of the London Evening Standard.
If Boy George sought popularity when deciding to vie for public office, he has not achieved it. When you ask progs about him he reliably draws sneers of disgust, much like Cameron or – another member of their cohort – education secretary Michael Gove. Or indeed any leading Tory.
Osbo has done little to help this. A recent profile from Esquire, which bears full reading, noted that when a flack asked him to do more ‘do more to soften his image – for instance, by inviting the media to meet him at home, with his kids – […] the chancellor demurred.’
One suspects ‘the austerity chancellor’, as Financial Times journalist Janan Ganesh dubbed his early biography of Osborne, wanted to be seen as harsh – a tough chancellor for tough times – especially since the attempts to bring down Britain’s public spending deficit during his tenure were more talk than action.
Still, I somewhat like the guy. In a field of shameless panderers he plainly doesn’t give a shit. He sees politics for the naked game that it is, in contrast to the pieties of the failing prime minister Theresa May, who made a show of firing Boy George, chatted some dross about equality, and then plunged the country into crisis by prematurely starting Brexit negotiations before bungling an election.
But this is not to say I approve of him. Old ‘Seven Jobs’ has been flagrant in grabbing cash prizes as a former minister, and then had the gall to tell a Spectator event this week that he is a mere ‘private citizen’.
But ex-ministers are not private citizens like you or me, and as editor of the Evening Standard – the only significant London regional paper left – Osbo has maintained his position as a major political actor, heckling May from the sidelines in an effort to undermine her government and shift Brexit negotiations.
Even without the paper, Osborne’s opportunity to trade ministerial experience for money is not available to a true private citizen. That information and contacts collected in public service should not be turned to private profit is an obvious moral – one that Parliament has regularly failed to protect (see Private Eye’s Public Servants, Private Paydays report, or our podcast with investigative journalist Martin Williams).
To list Osborne’s all occupations: he is a newspaper editor, an advisor to investment firm BlackRock, a speechifier, a lobby chair, and an employee at three universities.
One could argue not all of these are objectionable. Newspaper editing is inherently political anyway; banks are welcome to pay politicians to spew bromides at them; and academia could presumably use the insights of folks formerly at the helm of government.
But the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba) is feckless, and many former ministers are unprincipled. The likes of ex-home secretary Jack Straw and ex-foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind didn’t even leave the Commons before they started hawking their experience for dosh.
That many in the Spectator event’s crowd of City boys applauded Osbo’s disinterest in conflicts of interest suggests that for a certain cadre politics will be continue to be seen as another trade to milk money from. They at least deserved the chancellor they got.
Image based on George Osborne by mrgarethm