Meet George Osborne: The Country's Most Prominent Slashie
The Debrief: Why have one job when you can have three?
Last week former chancellor George Osborne revealed himself to be the ultimate slashie. Not content with being an MP who moonlights as a part-time adviser for investment management company, Black Rock, the former chancellor has shown steadfast commitment to the side hustle by announcing that he will also, simultaneously, now be the editor of the Evening Standard. Incidentally, he also gives speeches which have brought in the humble sum of £800,000 for him in the last 9 months.
It’s hardly surprising that someone of Osborne’s background and stature would feel entitled to spread themselves so thinly as he has done – after all, who needs to be qualified for their job, who really puts in the hours, does anyone work their way up from the bottom of an industry up? I’ll shortly be announcing my own career change. I’ve decided to start consulting on quantum physics and dark matter because I find it fascinating. I’m pretty bad at maths and I got a C in physics as GCSE but it’s my passion project and I've read LOADS about it on Wikipedia so just let me live, OK.
Much has been made of the fact that Osborne actually failed to get a job as a journalist after he finished university. Credit to him for persevering at a time when it’s harder than ever to get into the industry. If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again eh?
We’ve all seen the ‘never give up on your day dream’ meme and Osborne, it seems, has really taken it to heart. It’s probably the screensaver of his iPhone, perhaps he’s got it pinned to the wall of his office. In fact, I like to think he’s instagrammed it as #inspo on his private account at least once.
Ok, seriously, there are several very valid reasons to be troubled by this latest development in the complex plot of the constantly unfolding story that is British Politics right now.
The first, but by no means to most pressing, is the fact that Gideon can’t possibly fit all of these jobs into a working week. It’s no secret that someone of his stature doesn’t have to worry about such a trivial thing as their workload, he has people to manage it for him and pick up the slack. He has, casually, said, he will edit the paper in the morning and then be an MP in the afternoon (when he isn’t pocketing £600,000 a year for his part-time advisory of Black Rock, naturally). With the right help, anything is possible.
The second is what the first implies. It implies that editing a major newspaper can, in any way, be nailed in a morning. It undermines the effort, thought and energy that goes into journalism. Surely you can’t edit a newspaper in today’s 24/7 news cycle and also do two other high-paying, demanding jobs. You just can’t, at least not competently or seriously. Neither journalism nor politics are part time jobs, Osborne is making a mockery of both professions and those who do them full-time (and then some).
The third, and perhaps most important, is this: journalism is more necessary now than ever. We need journalists and the publications they work for to hold politicians and corporate giants to account. Can an editor be trusted to do so if they are a) a sitting politician and b) being paid the best part of a million quid a year to consult by the world’s largest investment company? Not if they’re remotely concerned about impartiality, objectivity or integrity. Perhaps Osborne thinks these are the concerns of mere mortals. Then again, he did get rejected by journalism graduate trainee schemes so perhaps he just hasn’t had a chance to flick through editorial code 101 yet. He's a busy man, after all.
More than this, journalism needs to be more diverse. Our newsrooms and editorial boards still lag behind on this front, that’s no secret. Hiring an editor with no journalism experience sends a very loud and very bad message to anyone trying to crack into an industry where they don’t see other people who look like them, happen to have illustrious parental connections or a bottomless pot of money with which to fund unpaid internship after unpaid internship.
So, what, if anything, can we learn anything from the former chancellor, the one responsible for austerity and failing to sort out this country’s deficit and failing to make a convincing case to remain in the European Union, as he embarks on his new role? It can only be that if you are a privileged, privately educated man you will not be subject to the same standards as others and doors which many highly qualified and capable hard working people bang over and over and over again on for years will, magically, open sesame right up for you. Does George Osborne really represent the diverse city of London where the Evening Standard is distributed? No. He represents a very small, very privileged section of it.
What Osborne is doing is not illegal. MPs are permitted to have second jobs and he's certainly not the first Member of Parliament to go round on the revolving door between politics and journalism. However, speaking to the Sunday Times yesterday Lord Bew, the Chair of the Committee of Standards in Public Life, said ‘we have not ruled out MPs having second jobs, quite deliberately, up until now, but we now have to look again at our rules.’
One way or another, something is going to have to give for the country’s most prominent and audacious slashie.
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