For once, Jeremy Corbyn was spot-on. Learning of the news that George Osborne is to be made editor of the Evening Standard he didn’t bleat about Tory domination of the press, but tweeted ‘It’s taking multi-tasking to an extreme level – what a joke’. What is wrong about Osborne’s new job is not that it confirms that the Evening Standard is a Conservative-supporting newspaper. That is there for all to see, but why does it matter when there is absolutely nothing to stop a Labour-supporting entrepreneur, or anyone else, setting up a rival London newspaper?
What ought to concern all taxpayers is that we are already paying the former chancellor to do what is supposed to be a full-time job: being an MP. That’s what MPs told us it was, at any rate, before the last election when they were accepting a recommendation that their pay be jacked up 10 per cent. Their salary is now £74,962, not the best-paid job in the world but a salary which would please many a middle-manager.
How can anyone reconcile the pretence that being a backbench MP is a full-time job with Osborne, who now believes he has the time to edit a daily newspaper, advise an investment company, travel the world making corporate speeches as well as represent in Parliament a constituency nearly 200 miles away?
I am not all that bothered about Osborne doing other jobs. There is a lot of merit in the argument that Parliament benefits from having a mixture of talents and from people with current experience of life outside Westminster. Part-time MPs are less likely to spend their time dreaming up ways of loading us with extra rules and regulations – if Osborne had been running a corner shop as well as being Chancellor of the Exchequer he wouldn’t have come up with the proposal to load small businesses with the burden of preparing tax returns four times a year: a policy the Lords yesterday demanded to be reviewed.
What does bother me, though, is his salary from the public purse. The Lords have been criticised this week for their system of remuneration: they are paid £300 a day, but only when they actually turn up. True, the system needs reform: a loophole allows them to sign in and then immediately leave the building, while still claiming their £300. But shouldn’t we be paying MPs in this way, too? How about paying them only when they turn up – maybe by tagging them so that it can be recorded how long they spend in the Houses of Parliament. Or how about stopping their salaries altogether and paying them on a freelance basis only when they ask a question in the Commons, make some contribution to a committee or sort out some problem for a constituent?
I don’t begrudge committed public servants proper remuneration, but in the case of a part-timer like George Osborne, it seems £20,000 a year would be plenty.