Theresa May urged to remover Tory whip from George Osborne over editor role


Theresa May has been urged to strip George Osborne of the Tory whip to avoid a conflict of interest between his new role as a newspaper editor and being an MP.

Labour said it was “intolerable” for the operation of a free press that a Fleet Street boss should also be subject to the control of party enforcers. Deputy leader Tom Watson said the former chancellor should either quit his Westminster seat or sit as an independent and called on the Prime Minister to remove the whip if he refused.

In a letter to the PM, he said the demands of the London Evening Standard editorship are “simply not compatible with an expectation of party loyalty”. He wrote: “It is intolerable for the operation of a free press for the editor of a major newspaper to be subject to the whip of a political party, in particular the governing party.

“I have said before that I believe the best solution would be for Mr Osborne to step down as an MP and trigger a by-election, enabling at least some of the conflicts of interest created by his appointment to be removed (not all of them, of course – the question of whether a newspaper’s business coverage can really be trusted when its editor is paid £650,000 a year by a major investment management company is a serious one, but not one that has anything to do with Mr Osborne’s political role).

“However, if he refuses to do that, and as things stand, that appears to be his position, I would urge you to withdraw the Conservative whip from him, enabling him to sit as an independent, or perhaps as an independent conservative.

“This is not because of any breach of party discipline that I am aware of, but because as a newspaper editor he should not have to worry about whether he is breaking party discipline.

“We cannot be said to have a free press when a major newspaper editor is subject to the discipline of any political party, let alone the governing party.

“By pre-emptively removing the whip, even perhaps against his will, you will release him from any obligation, and any perceived obligation, towards the government in his editorial decisions.”

Most of Mr Osborne’s constituents believe he must quit as an MP if he goes ahead with the new job, according to polling.

More than half, 57%, said the editorship would harm his ability to represent Tatton voters and four in 10 Tories said they would now be less likely to vote for him in the future, Survation found. But Mr Osborne has claimed he has the ”overwhelming support” of his local Conservative Party.

The Evening Standard job is one of a string of new posts he has taken up since leaving the Tory frontbench last year. He earns £650,000 a year as an adviser to US investment firm BlackRock, chairs the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, is a Kissinger Fellow and has become a face on the lucrative after-dinner speech circuit.

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