George Osborne has been announced as the new editor of The Evening Standard, a move that has managed to annoy pretty much everyone.
He has no previous editorial experience and has shown that he believes being an editor is not a full-time job, nor is the job of being an MP.
Congratulations, George, you have managed to alienate your new staff and all your constituents in one fell swoop. He will now earn around a million pounds a year for editing London’s most important daily in the morning, representing his constituency (over 100 miles away) in the afternoon, while working for a giant investment fund one day a week, and squeezing in some after-dinner speaking on the odd evening.
The former chancellor of the exchequer will take up his role as editor in early May. Mr Osborne will continue to fulfil his other commitments, including as an MP. He will edit the paper an average of four days a week.
Osborne said: “This is such an exciting and challenging job and I’m thrilled to take it on. The Evening Standard is a great paper, testimony to the hard work of Sarah Sands and the impressive team, and to the investment of its owners. I look forward to working with, learning from and leading this team of dedicated professionals.
“Growing up as a Londoner, I’ve always known that the Evening Standard is an institution that plays a huge part in the life of the city and its people. Now it is a great honour that I can play a part as leader of the editorial team making the Evening Standard the definitive voice of the world’s most exciting city.
“I am proud to be a Conservative MP, but as editor and leader of a team of dedicated and independent journalists, our only interest will be to give a voice to all Londoners. We will be fearless as a paper fighting for their interests. We will judge what the government, London’s politicians and the political parties do against this simple test: is it good for our readers and good for London? If it is, we’ll support them. If it isn’t, we’ll be quick to say so.
“So much is now at stake about the future of our country and its capital city. I will remain in Parliament, where that future is debated.
“I was elected by my constituents in Tatton to serve them and I intend to fulfil that promise. I remain passionate about the Northern Powerhouse and will continue to promote that cause. Right from the first speech I gave about the North of England, I’ve said that London needs a successful north and the north benefits from its links to a global city like London. It’s not a zero-sum game, but quite the opposite.”
The Evening Standard’s proprietor, Evgeny Lebedev, a Russian oligarch, who is also proprietor of The Independent, said: “In George, we have appointed someone of huge political achievement, and economic and cultural authority. Once he put himself forward for the position, he was the obvious choice. I am proud to have an editor of such substance, who reinforces the Evening Standard’s standing and influence in London and whose political viewpoint – liberal on social issues and pragmatic on economic ones – closely matches those of many of our readers.”
Absolute nonsense; George Osborne is laughing at all of us as he takes his Evening Standard job; his appointment is bad for the press, for politicians and democracy.
The key role of a free press is to hold power to account and Osborne’s new job blows that idea out of the water. How can the London Evening Standard scrutinise a government when it’s run by a man who less than a year ago was its de facto number two – and who remains an MP for the ruling party? In the financial capital of the world, how much credibility will the Standard’s City pages command when their ultimate editor is in the pay of a giant fund manager? And how is journalism ever going to become an industry that represents its audience if one of its plum jobs can be lobbed by the son of a Russian oligarch into the lap of a public schoolboy who has never subbed, reported or edited?
This appointment looks terrible for politicians; since the MPs’ expenses scandal, the political elite has had to fight hard the charges that Westminster is just a giant feeding trough. Their efforts have been rendered effectively useless by the former chancellor. He has treated his time in government as an elongated gap year – time served to give him the CV points to go off and make big-money speeches on Wall Street and land a part-time job in the industry he was meant to be regulating.
The public-school larceny might make you angry; the lack of effective oversight should make you despair. Osborne’s new job must be agreed by parliament’s advisory committee on business appointments, which is meant to regulate the jobs taken up by former ministers. This is the same watchdog that allowed Gove to go back to work for Rupert Murdoch, former health secretary Lansley to take money from drugs firms and the ex-water minister, Richard Benyon, to take on £1,000 a day in the water industry. Dress it up in ceremonial robes but this is class privilege writ large and made all the more glaring by being pursued by politicians who bang on about a “fair crack” and the need for social mobility.
From banking, to the press to Westminster, Britain’s elites have shown themselves to be both unreformed and unreformable. In each sector, their leading individuals keep on bending the rules and raking it in, even when collective self-interest should be telling them to stop. The public might not follow every headline, every appointment, every twist and turn, but they know when they’re being laughed at.