Former Chancellor George Osborne’s new position as editor of the London Evening Standard, a job he’s taken on while remaining an MP, might be a commercial conflict of interest, Clive Lewis has said.
Research from Lewis’s office has found that Osborne’s former department, the Treasury, had the largest budget for newspaper advertising of any government department in the last financial year. They spent over £2.6m on advertising in the Mail, Sun, Mirror, Times and Guardian titles. The Evening Standard was not part of these figures.
The former shadow minister will today table questions in parliament to each government department asking them to explain how much they’ve spent on advertising with the Standard since 2010. He has also asked them to lay out their future spending plans.
Lewis, a former journalist, has suggested that there could be a potential commercial relationship between Osborne’s new employer and his former Department.
“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 plans to write to the ministerial appointments watchdog, the advisory committee on business appointments (ACOBA), to raise this issue and explore the potential that Osborne accepted the new role before ACOBA, which looks into conflict of interests in jobs for ex-ministers and senior civil services, could investigate the appointment in full. Questions are being raised as to whether Osborne waited for the required 15-day period, in which the Committee investigates any potential conflict, before announcing his new role.
“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.”