Like several leading panto baddies in our current brooding dystopian landscape, George Osborne doesn’t help himself – well, not in the popularity stakes at least.
Osborne, we have learned this week, will join the investment research arm of the BlackRock Investment Institute as a senior adviser this February for a six-figure sum. Osborne’s windfall comes shortly after his £600,000 autumn speaking tour in which BlackRock generously gave him £34,109 for one talk. There are no current indications that Osborne will give up his role as MP for Tatton, representing his 65,200 constituents.
My cynical self feels dubious that Osborne can remain entirely focused on the hoi polloi of South-west Manchester’s piffling agonies: their closing A&E, their HS2 worries, their superfast broadband and super-slow traffic and so on, while at the same time feathering his nest via BlackRock, but then the company’s name doesn’t help. BlackRock sounds like a twisted confederacy of steampunk nihilist megalomaniacs situated just Beyond Thunderdome. It sounds like a cannibal-strewn landmass, cursed yet useful in a military sense, to which a 17th-century sociopath played by Tom Hardy owns the deeds.
BlackRock sounds like a volcano repurposed into an HQ where men in gestapo-style tailoring laugh for slightly too long at mega-screen CCTV footage of the residents of Tatton being crushed like ants. But BlackRock isn’t any of these things, my lawyer will be keen for me point out: it is in fact a reputable New York-based firm overseeing £4.2 trillion-worth of investments for pensioners and savers.
“Same, same,” a Corbynite would say, highlighting the former Chancellor taking payment from them while asserting his impartiality. Osborne – employing what might be dark humour – claims his new role’s sole aim is to help people save for retirement. This from a man without a startling track record in preventing future generations eking out their twilight years in sub-Dickensian squalor.
Additionally, this feels like an enormous smack in the face for Theresa May, following her strident rhetoric on executive pay and boys'-club cronyism, especially as Osborne is now merrily reunited with his former economic adviser Rupert Harrison. Suffice to say, I'm sure George Osborne needn't worry about these criticisms; he is merely taking a first-class seat on the same gravy train as Brown, Blair, Cameron, Thatcher, Major, Kinnock and so on. It may be ethically questionable but it is not illegal. And, more pressingly, it is not in Osborne’s business to care.
From a personal vantage point, I’ve met Osborne and found him in private to be warm, pithy and perky company, although little of this is shown publicly.
Instead, and to his increasing advantage, he is political and powerful in a manner which is thoroughly a la mode. He doesn’t hope to make himself soft and fuzzy-edged to opponents. He doesn’t present himself as a frustrated rock star, Strictly Come Dancer or watercolour painter. He doesn’t claim loudly to be happiest being rode around the living room by a toddler. He never ever coyly suggests he found himself knee-deep in wealth and monumentally powerful purely by happy accident.
Just like Trump, Osborne has never claimed he was anything other than a man obsessively fascinated by the art of accruing – and guarding – wealth.
In a perfectly ethical political landscape, Osborne would tell the truths of his exciting new job spec, exit politics and vanish into BlackRock. But frankly, we’re all a bit post-truth and “alternative facts” at the moment. “Tell the truth and shame the devil,” wrote Shakespeare. He’s never been less embarrassed.