Why the Osborne story matters….
Mark Ferguson has a piece on LabourList calling the current swirl of stories around George Osborne’s private life a “distraction”. Normally, i’d be inclined to agree with Mark’s basic premise – that what Osborne did 20 years ago is of no relevance to the here and now of what he is doing to the economy. However, this case is a little different. For me, there are two broad case scenarios when it is acceptable and in the public interest to make a politicians private issue;
a) when their private actions contradict or call into question directly the sincerity of their public statements on an issue. For example, if in public you are calling for a return to ‘family values’ but in private are conducting an adulterous affair behind the back of your wife and 2.4 children then you should expect to be held to account for that. Your private life in this instance is made ‘fair game’ by your public proclamations and prescriptions for others.
b) when your private life or circumstances within it lead you to abuse the position and power you hold, either in preferencing others or using it to buy the effective silence of scrutiny of your current or past actions. In other words, when you abuse your position and therefore public trust (as those in a do as well) because of factors in your private life. David Law’s antics are a good example of this, it’s not the fact he’s gay and wanted to hide it, it’s the fact that he pilfered from the public purse to do so.
There are shades of a about the Osborne case, after all, his government has moralised at us about ‘broken Britain’ and the ‘feral underclass’. However, the importance and relevance and, crucially, the legitimacy of using the Osborne story as a political weapon are mostly located in b. Specifically, the importance of this story is the new light it sheds on the reasoning behind Mr Osborne’s promotion of and close ties with both Andy Coulson and Rebecca Brooks. Did he promote Coulson in order to hush-up stories about his previous coke and cane antics? If so, did he do so with full knowledge of Coulson’s alleged criminality and proceed despite that? If he did then that definitely is an abuse of his position and powers of patronage.
It is also something i’d happen to be immensely ticked-off about if I was his boss, David Cameron. I do believe politicians have a right to a private life, and they have a right to not being flayed alive for doing things that many of us do, however when they use and abuse their position of privilege and power to cover that up, that is when there private lives should be opened up to scrutiny and they should expect judgment for that abuse of power. It is not what Osborne did in his youth that is the issue, he may well be forgiven that, but what he has subsequently done to cover his actions-up that is the real issue and his insipid links with Andy Coulson and News International. This is why the Osborne story matters, and this is why it’s legitimate for Labour to ask the questions that arise from it.