George Osborne has been accused of dragging the reputation of politicians “deeper into the gutter” by trading his insider knowledge of government to Donald Trump’s favourite investment firm – and pulling in the highest-ever earnings of a sitting MP.
As his successor Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered the government’s latest austerity budget on Wednesday, the register of MPs’ interests was published – and the full details emerged of Osborne’s lucrative new contract with US money manager BlackRock which will see him collect at least £650,000 a year for just one day’s work a week.
Osborne’s £13,500-a-day earnings at BlackRock may be substantial, but they are a piffling amount for a firm which makes more than $13m (£10.7m) profit each day, advising clients including President Trump, who has praised BlackRock for “great returns”.
But Osborne’s huge pay packet is not his only income. Over the past six months the former chancellor pocketed almost £800,000 for 15 speeches, some of which caused him to miss a series of crucial votes in parliament, including on Brexit – although he was paired with an opposition MP who was also unable to make the vote so that his absence did not affect the outcome.
He also collects a £120,000-a-year “stipend” from a US Republican thinktank, and received an estimated £100,000 advance for his forthcoming book Age of Unreason which explores the rise of “populist nationalism”. Then there is an annual dividend of £44,000 from his family’s upmarket wallpaper business, Osborne & Little – and it is all on top of his £75,000 salary as the Right Honourable member for Tatton.
Andrew Gwynne, shadow Cabinet Office minister, said it was outrageous that Osborne’s annual pay from his one-day a week job is more than many of his constituents “will see in their lifetime, [and] all whilst still claiming his full salary as an MP”.
“It is an outrage that whilst the country was listening to the chancellor sentencing us to austerity until at least 2025 – Osborne was banking almost £1m trading in his experience as a failed former chancellor and failed EU negotiator. .
“Claims from this government that they represent working people, shows how detached from reality they are.”
Osborne’s post-chancellorship fortune will be boosted further by bonuses he expects to be granted by BlackRock. His final take will depend on how much profit the world’s largest fund manager makes. The firm, which manages more than $5tn worth of investors’ money including “a lot of” Trump’s fortune, made profits of $4.6bn last year.
BlackRock declined to specify how Osborne’s bonus and share awards will be calculated – but they may well be big. Last year, BlackRock’s chief executive, Larry Fink, collected a bonus worth 2,766% times his basic pay, taking his total yearly earnings to £25.8m.
While he was in office, Osborne met with BlackRock bosses five times, and members of his team at No 11 met with the firm 22 times in his last two years at the Treasury. His former righthand man, Rupert Harrison, who was described as the architect of the government’s pension reforms, left government to become BlackRock’s chief macro-strategist in 2015.
BlackRock president Robert Kapito said the pension reforms that Osborne introduced in the 2014 budget helped transform $25bn of pension savings into “money in motion” and the firm aimed to “put a lot of effort into putting together more retirement products to capitalise on this market”.
Both Osborne and Harrison have promised they will not lobby the government on behalf of BlackRock, but Osborne has made clear that he intends to work with BlackRock on UK pensions. “BlackRock wants better outcomes for pensioners and savers – and I want to help them deliver that,” Osborne said in BlackRock’s official announcement.
Fink said: “At the centre of our mission is helping people around the world save and invest for retirement, and George’s insights will help our clients achieve their goals.”
Osborne and Harrison’s appointments were rubber stamped by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), the official watchdog charged with monitoring the revolving door between Whitehall and big business. Acoba has failed to block a single ex-minister’s new money-spinning job over the last eight years, and more than 370 politicians’ lucrative appointments have been approved by the watchdog.
Veteran Labour MP Paul Flynn, who sits on the public administration select committee, said that Osborne and other former ministers were “making money out of their ministerial experience [is] dragging the reputation of politicians deeper into the gutter”.
He added: “We need a powerful watchdog to stop former ministers from prostituting their insider knowledge by selling it to the highest bidder,” he said. “Acoba is not a watchdog, it is a pussycat without teeth or claws. All it can do is give advice but former ministers ignore it with impunity.”
On the international speech-making circuit Osborne can command more than £50,000-an-hour for some events, as well as free first-class or private jet travel and luxury accommodation.
In just one week in November he earned £187,474 giving speeches to banks and hedge funds in London and New York, including £34,109 for a speech at BlackRock’s HQ in Midtown Manhattan.
On 7 February he was handed £51,000 for a three-hour speech to the Flanders chamber of commerce in Antwerp, Belgium, when parliament was debating Brexit and article 50. On 18 January he collected a further £51,829 for a two-hour speech to HSBC’s top clients at Davos, where he was pictured socialising with George and Amal Clooney.
The House of Commons was also sitting when he gave speeches at Stanford University in California and for Palmex Derivatives in New York in October and to ITP Publishing in Dubai on 28 November.
His speeches are mostly arranged via the Washington Speakers Bureau, the world’s biggest public speakers agency, which claims to have represented “three out of the last four US presidents, the last four prime ministers of England [and], countless world leaders”.
Osborne has denied that his new jobs distract from his constituency work in Tatton, Cheshire, saying “It’s very similar to what previous chancellors, Labour and Conservative, have done in the past.”
He added: “As a member of parliament I disclose all my earnings. I think it’s quite right that people can see what I do and what I am paid and so on. I was chancellor of the exchequer working seven days a week, and now I’m a backbench MP I made a decision to remain in politics and public life because I wanted to go on contributing to the discussion about helping to improve our country.”
George’s jobs in full …
Osborne will collect $650,000 for 48 days work a year as a part-time senior adviser to the BlackRock Investment Institute (BII). The institute, which is run by former Swiss National Bank boss Philipp Hildebrand, says it exists to provide “connectivity” between portfolio managers and to publish investment insight. BlackRock declined to state exactly what Osborne will be doing for his £13,500-a-day, but he is likely to be asked to join the fund’s daily video conference and may even be allowed to pose “a Question of the Week to debate a topical or thematic issue”, BII says on its website. “The entire BlackRock investment community can vote and comment on the question on our internal blog.”
Osborne has made £786,450 giving 15 speeches since he was sacked as chancellor. Over two days in October he earned £141,752 for giving two speeches, lasting seven hours combined, to US investment bank JP Morgan, which also paid for his travel and accommodation.
Most of his speaking work comes via DC-based Washington Speakers Bureau, which describes Osborne as “a prominent campaigner for Britain to remain in the EU, George left the government in July 2016 following the outcome of the referendum”.
Kissinger fellow at the McCain Institute
Osborne is the first Kissinger fellow for the McCain Institute, an academic centre set up by Republican Senator John McCain. The former chancellor will collect a £120,212 stipend to cover travel costs, accommodation and to pay for a research assistant. Henry Kissinger, in whose name the fellowship was created, said it should help Osborne pursue a “bright future in public service”.
A US literary agent known as “the jackal” for his hard bargaining has secured Osborne a rumoured six-figure deal to write a book to serve as a “rallying cry to save capitalism and western democracy”. The “urgent and impassioned” book to be published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, has provisionally been titled The Age of Unreason.
Osborne & Little
Osborne last year earned £44,647 in dividends from Osborne & Little, the wallpaper firm co-founded by his father, Sir Peter Osborne, through direct ownership of shares and as a life tenant of a family trust whose assets include shares in that company. Osborne received the windfall dividend payment despite the family firm having paid no corporation tax since 2008 because it has rolled over losses from previous years.
He is chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which was created to bring together business and local politicians to commission research, share ideas, and lobby Whitehall to press ahead with devolution. “There’s a real excitement now in the north about what we can achieve if we work together,” Osborne said, when his appointment was announced last September. “I don’t want us to lose that. Chairing this new partnership will now be a major focus of my political energies. The northern powerhouse is here to stay.”
MP for Tatton
Although he was sacked as chancellor following the Brexit vote, Osborne is still a sitting MP and drawing a £74,962 salary a year. He has been MP for Tatton, where he won 59% of the vote at the last election, since 2001 when he became the youngest Conservative MP in the Commons.
What other former politicians do now
•Gordon Brown collects an undisclosed, but understood to be, six-figure salary for advising giant asset manager Pimco, although he didn’t take on the role until December 2015 after he had stood down as an MP.
•Former shadow chancellor Ed Balls, wholost his seat at the 2015 election, is a fellow at Harvard University, a professor at King’s College London, chairman of Norwich City FC and was paid fees reportedly in the“tens of thousands” by the BBC as a contestant of Strictly Come Dancing and the show’s live tour.
•William Hague, former foreign secretary, recently joined US investment bank Citigroup to advise on Brexit. Hague quit as an MP in 2015. He now sits in the Lords.
•Tony Blair was paid a widely reported £2m a year to advise JP Morgan, although he took up the position in 2008, after he had stood down as both prime minister and as an MP.