George Osborne nodded approvingly at the ATM in the House of Commons. As he had requested, it had been updated to dispense roubles as well as pounds.
It wasn’t easy trying to fit in being editor of the London Evening Standard along with his other jobs as £650,000-a-year adviser to BlackRock, Kissinger fellow, after-dinner speaker and chairman of the southern branch of the Northern Powerhouse, so every little helped. Now all he needed was a sack to cart away his 17m roubles. That should tide him over till the weekend.
But something was still niggling him. Wasn’t there one other job he’d forgotten about? Then it came to him. He was also MP for Tatton. He checked his watch. Hmm. He supposed he could squeeze in half an hour or so in the chamber to listen to an urgent question on the operation of the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba), though he doubted whether he would hear much of interest. Still, no one could accuse him of not working tirelessly on his constituents’ behalf.
Labour’s Andrew Gwynne saw it differently. He thought Osborne was taking the piss by accepting the editorship of the Evening Standard and that the public would conclude that everyone in the Commons was on the make. It was left to Ben Gummer, the dispensable minister for the Cabinet Office, to take the flak on behalf of the government.
“This is a matter of great importance for the prime minister,” he said, trying and failing to sound sincere. However, he was sorry to say that he was unable to come up with a definitive view on the government’s position on George’s adventures in the gig economy, as Acoba had yet to make a ruling. But since, even when it did, it would only be advisory, he suggested that everyone just chillax a bit. Live and let live. Free the Tatton One.
Time for George to defend Tatton. Everything he did, he did it for the little people of Tatton. No one could say he was just in it for the money when he was prepared to speak after the Evening Standard’s print deadline.
“This parliament is enhanced when we have people of different experience take part in our robust debate,” he said, “and when people who have held senior ministerial office continue to contribute to the decisions we have to make.” Put like that, he was worth a massive pay rise just for all the experience he was bringing.
By now Gummer had already run out of excuses and resorted to muttering that if Nicola Sturgeon was allowed a weekly column in a Scottish newspaper, then surely it was OK for George to edit a London one.
Conservative Oliver Letwin was next to rush to George’s defence. As George had managed to be a chancellor of the exchequer – if not a very good one – as well as MP for Tatton, surely that proved he was more than capable of doing half a dozen jobs simultaneously? The concept of conflict of interest didn’t appear to have occurred to him. For a supposedly intelligent man, Letwin is consistently stupid.
Tory Anna Soubry was also right behind George. Primarily because she saw his editorship of the Evening Standard as representing the most effective opposition to a hard Tory Brexit in the absence of an effective Labour party. She had a point.
Meanwhile, Michael Gove also had his eye on the main chance. Seeing the amount of cash that George was racking up was making him feel inadequate. £150K for a not very good column was just not enough. “Proprietors can approve who they like,” he announced grandly. His bid to be the next editor of the Times had just been launched.
“It’s a matter of liberty,” Gummer declared vaguely. The right to take liberties. Tory Tom Tugendhat agreed. “Many people have land … er … and properties … er … and write books … er,” he said. He couldn’t come up with any other jobs that people might reasonably expect someone as important as him to do, so he left it at that. George had the grace to wince. It’s one thing to have a sense of entitlement. It’s another to spell it out quite so obviously.
Labour’s Liz McInnes was worried about the impact of such a workload on George’s health. At last Gummer was on safer ground. One of the main reasons for leaving the EU was so that we wouldn’t have to worry about working time directives. George could look after himself. There again, George already had.