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Former U.K. finance minister George Osborne under fire for moonlighting

George Osborne has dismissed criticisms, insisting he can handle his many duties.


When George Osborne was ousted as Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer last summer by new Prime Minister Theresa May, it was generally expected that he'd remain a backbench member of Parliament or resign and find another job.

But Mr. Osborne had other ideas. Instead of quietly fading away, he has accepted five other high-profile positions that will pay him about $2-million annually, including serving as editor of one of Britain's major daily newspapers, the London Evening Standard, an appointment announced on Friday.

And he plans to do all of that while remaining the MP for Tatton, a riding near Manchester that's more than 300 kilometres north of London.

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His remarkable workload has sparked an outcry and led to a review of the rules governing how many jobs an MP can hold. It's also prompted an online petition calling on him to "pick a job" that's attracted 155,000 signatures in three days and has caused grumbling among Mr. Osborne's fellow Conservative MPs that he's angling for a platform to criticize Ms. May.

"The appointment makes a mockery of the independence of the media," said Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. "It takes multitasking to a new level and is an insult to the electors he is supposed to serve."

Added Conservative MP Philip Davies: "I am sure there are many newspaper editors who will be interested to know that their job is not a full-time job."

Mr. Osborne, 45, has roots in London. He's the son of a prominent London businessman and attended Oxford University before landing a position with the Conservative Party in the 1990s. He's been the MP for Tatton since 2001 and served as Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2010 to 2016. He was a close ally of former prime minister David Cameron for years and the two led the Remain campaign during last June's referendum on Britain's membership in the European Union.

Mr. Osborne infuriated Brexit backers during the campaign by issuing dire economic warnings about the consequences of leaving the EU and suggesting he'd have to introduce an emergency budget if the country voted to leave that would slash spending and raise taxes. Shortly after the Leave side won, Mr. Cameron resigned and Mr. Osborne was shuffled out of cabinet by Ms. May.

Britain is expected to begin the process of leaving the EU next week, and many Conservative MPs who backed Brexit have privately wondered if Mr. Osborne will now use the Evening Standard to attack Ms. May over her handling of Brexit.

Mr. Osborne has dismissed those suggestions and insisted he can handle his many duties, telling reporters last week that he'll work at the Evening Standard in the mornings and head to Parliament in the afternoon. "Crucially, though, people need to know this; I will speak for London and Londoners through this paper as its editor and we will judge whatever the government does, whatever the Mayor does, against that simple test: is it good for London or isn't it?" he said. "And if it isn't good for London then we will say so and we won't be afraid to do that. If it's good for London, we will of course back it."

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That hasn't eased many concerns and on Sunday the chairman of the government body that provides advice on ethical standards for public office holders said the organization would reconsider the rules governing jobs held by MPs. "We have not ruled out MPs having second jobs, quite deliberately, up until now, but we now have to look again at our rules," said Paul Bew, who chairs the Committee on Standards in Public Life. "We are going to discuss whether our rules on second jobs need to be changed in light of this."

Technically Mr. Osborne isn't doing anything wrong. The rules are vague and many MPs hold extra jobs. That includes part-time doctors, nurses, professors, consultants and media commentators. There's a long tradition in Britain that MPs should be able to draw on other experiences and there have been a handful of occasions when an MP has run a newspaper, though the most recent equivalent of what Mr. Osborne is doing involved an MP running the Manchester Guardian more than 100 years ago. Canadian MPs follow similar rules.

However, Mr. Osborne also has four other positions, in addition to serving as an MP and editing the Evening Standard. They include working one day a week as an adviser to the U.S. hedge fund giant Blackrock, which pays him £650,000, or about $1-million, annually; running the Northern Powerhouse Institute, a think tank he created last fall to push for more investment in Northern England; serving as a fellow at the Arizona-based McCain Institute, which pays £120,977; and handling speaking engagements booked through the U.S.-based Washington Speakers Bureau.

His salary from all those positions is around £1.1-million (he'll earn about £250,000 from the Evening Standard and he gets £75,000 as an MP). He also pulled in an additional £800,000 in speaking fees in the past year. All of that has led to questions by some MPs about whether Mr. Osborne has gone too far and perhaps even broken conflict-of-interest rules that govern former cabinet ministers for two years after they leave office.

Not everyone has criticized Mr. Osborne. Former prime minister Tony Blair has said that his appointment as editor will make politics more interesting and Conservative MP Nicky Morgan, another Remain campaigner who was fired from her cabinet post by Ms. May, has also backed him.

"When you are fired, as we all were last summer, what did the government expect? That we were going to just all disappear?" Ms. Morgan said Sunday. "We are going to make our voices heard, whether it's me writing articles, or George being editor. "There's a liberal conservative point of view to be talked about and we are going to do that."

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