What do we want politicians to do once they’ve thrown in the towel and leave public life? Go and live in a cave as a hermit? Quietly collect a few innocuous non-exec roles for modest sums? Hire a publicist and put in an application to appear on Strictly Come Dancing? (Maybe Eric Pickles could follow Ann Widdecombe and Ed Balls onto the dance floor. Or, like Portillo, become the world’s most awkward railway travel show presenter.)
This is a genuine question because it seems, whatever they do when not seeking re-election, it cannot satisfy the public. Barack Obama, before he left office, had a pop at Hillary Clinton who earned six figure sums for making speeches at Goldman Sachs. But now a couple of months after leaving office he’s taken a $400,000 speaking fee from Cantor Fitzgerald, the investment bank. This has caused protest but I’m not quite sure why. There is a market in the world of public speaking and Obama is at one end of it while Jeremy Corbyn resides at the other. (I think I’d pay actually not to have to hear Corbyn droning on.) People remain very interested to hear what Obama has to say about the world and the unwholesome mess which has ensued at the White House.
Certainly Tony Blair overdid the post-PM consultancy earning, acting as counsellor to some pretty unsavoury individuals and regimes. Some claim he’s now worth £60 million. But was he supposed to just tend to his market garden in Belgravia? To make it as PM requires drive and application, qualities that don’t just disappear once an individual leaves the hot seat. And unlike the CEO of a big company, this tends to happen well before retirement age.
But Politicians have seen no let up in the deep and corrosive antipathy towards them. So untainted amateurs like Trump and Macron have a huge appeal. One of the origins of the current wave of populism in the UK is the MPs’ expenses scandal which broke eight years back - the gruesome tales of moat-cleaning and ornamental duck houses left a lasting resonance. I don’t think politicians ever recovered.
George Osborne has now announced he’s reducing his broad portfolio by one and not standing in Cheshire. I’m not so precious about the trade - it isn’t a profession - of journalism that I am enraged that Osborne accepted the role as editor of The Evening Standard without any qualifications to take on the job. (He did, after all, try to become a hack when he left university but was turned down by The Times.) Anything that brings an increased level of attention to and interest in a newspaper should be welcomed - Churchill went back to scribbling when things went belly up for him in politics.
Osborne may have even a few good ideas about how to run things differently. I, for one, will be interested to observe his editorial line as Brexit is negotiated: he isn’t finished with Theresa May yet, not by a long chalk. As the only proper paper belonging to the finest city in the world, The Standard could do with a shake up. He was hardly going to man the till at the family wallpaper and paint shop. And, anyway, one suspects we haven’t seen the last of him in politics.