George Osborne has brushed aside concerns over conflicts of interest as a result of his appointment as Evening Standard editor, saying Parliament is “enhanced” by people of different experience.
The former Chancellor shocked the media and political worlds when it was announced on Friday he would be put in charge of the capital’s only evening paper.
As well as prompting fears over a series of conflicts of interest, not least his role at a major City firm and the paper’s financial coverage, journalists questioned how a politician with no experience in the industry could land such a big job.
Labour was today granted an urgent question in the House of Commons over the principle of MPs holding second jobs in light of his appointment. To the surprise of many, the Tory MP showed up to the debate - and was even called by Speaker Bercow to ask a question.
He initially quipped the timing of the debate had “missed the deadline” for the Standard, and added:
“In my view this Parliament is enhanced when we have people have of different experience take part in our robust debate and when people who have held senior ministerial office continue to contribute to the decisions we have to make.”
SNP MP Roger Mullin was the first to respond, and condemned Osborne for treating the House as a “case of gout” and a “disgraceful shambles” for joking about the job.
Labour’s Wes Streeting said there was an “air of complete unreality” about the debate, arguing:
“The trust in the public for politicians and the media has never been so low. So what does it do to the trust of the public in politicians that people can have a number of roles, including editing a newspaper? What does it do for the reputation of media in an era of ‘fake news’, to have someone editing a newspaper who has no qualifications to do so?”
Streeting, a London MP, raised the issue of whether Osborne would campaign for apprenticeship funding for the capital or his Cheshire constituency.
Notably, no Conservative MP publicly criticised Osborne during the debate.
Tory MP Tom Tugendhat asked minister Ben Gummer which jobs should be deemed acceptable. He said:
“Many people write books, own land, own property - should they therefore sell everything into monastic simplicity and become a political class, or should they represent the people of this country by keeping in tact a body of effort with other people?”
Michael Gove, the former Education secretary who earns £150,000 a year as a Times columnist, said that newspaper proprietors should be allowed to appoint an editor “without anyone else interfering in that decision”.