George Osborne told to choose whether to be MP or Standard editor

Vanessa Thorpe Arts and media correspondent
George Osborne, with predecessor Sarah Sands, has also been criticised by appointments watchdog. Photograph: David M. Benett/Getty Images

George Osborne has been criticised by the official body that advises ministers on taking work outside parliament, amid growing public anger over the former chancellor’s portfolio of lucrative jobs.

The advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba) said it disapproved of Osborne’s decision to announce his job as editor of the London Evening Standard only four days after submitting his application for its advice.

The criticism comes as more than 145,000 people signed a petition set up by the campaign organisation 38 Degrees demanding Osborne choose between his job as a backbench MP and pursuing a career in newspapers.

Acoba gives advice to former ministers and senior civil servants about any jobs they take for two years after leaving office. A key purpose of the rules is to avoid the risk that ministers might improperly exploit their privileged access to government contacts.

Acoba says former ministers should not take up any appointments until after they have “received the committee’s final advice”. A spokeswoman for Acoba said: “We received his application on Monday, and [the timing] is not something that the committee likes at all.”

The Tatton MP is said to have broken Acoba’s rules before, when he accepted a £650,000 part-time role with the investment firm BlackRock.

As well as advising the financial giant, Osborne, 45, gives after-dinner speeches, chairs the Northern Powerhouse Partnership and is completing a fellowship in America, in addition to being MP for Tatton in Cheshire.

The MP’s surprise decision to take up journalism has been met with a mix of dismay and derision in Westminster and Fleet Street. Senior Tory MPs on Saturday questioned whether Osborne would be able to command enough support in Cheshire to continue as an MP while editing a newspaper that needs to advance London’s interests.

One said: “If it was the Daily Telegraph I think he would be able to do it, as he would be arguing the Conservative cause nationwide. But to represent Tatton while advancing the cause of everything to do with London – and London above everywhere else – will be tricky.”

Another Tory said Osborne would be in the “awkward position” of promoting his “northern powerhouse” project while arguing through the Evening Standard for more investment in London.

But some Tory grandees have spoken in support of Osborne. The former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine said: “George was a brilliant chancellor and will see it as an opportunity to make his views clear about political issues.”

Former Conservative foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind said Osborne the editor would face challenges: “The news stories will inevitably involve parliamentary colleagues and government policy, so that will be difficult. But it used to be standard practice for barristers who sat on the backbenches to come into the House of Commons after court.”