George Osborne's appointment as editor of the London Evening Standard while refusing to stand down as a member of parliament is ridiculous, offensive, corrupt and insulting. It has already been said over the last couple of days that it is impossible to be an effective MP and newspaper editor at the same time. They are both demanding full-time jobs and the people served by both jobs deserve so much more than a part-timer. It has already been said that doing these two jobs represents a massive conflict of interest. His appointment demeans the role of an MP as well as the role of a newspaper editor.
Of course there are inane apologists for this steaming truckload of bullshit.
"But he'll just be a figurehead editor!"
Great. Super. Wonderful. So he'll be on an inflated salary to waft in and out of the office when he can be arsed, doing the bits of the job that amuse him, while the rest of the Evening Standard staff have to do the real work? Will he be there for boring parts of the editor's job? For the negotiations with the sales team that require decisions about balancing revenue with editorial credibility? For refereeing a dispute over the style guide? For the inevitable staff member who appears at the editor's desk in tears?
As well as propping up the notion that only the privileged get the top British media jobs, Osborne's appointment reinforces the myth that journalism is an easy job that anyone can do.
"It's all about his great connections!"
When he first aspired to be a journalist many moons ago, his rampant privilege and connections could not get him entry-level positions on The Times or The Economist. He did a freelance stint writing the Peterborough diary for the Telegraph. This means anyone who has done a competent enough job on more than one publication has more experience as a journalist than George Osborne. And in a city the size of London with its large media market, there are plenty of well-connected journalists with genuine runs on the board.
It should not be beyond the wit of Evgeny Lebedev to find someone who has a full contacts book and the ability to run the daily news conference without having to refer to Journalism For Dummies or surreptitiously Google "what is the splash?" on his phone.
"But Boris Johnson did a great job as a journalist!"
Yeah, that'd be Boris Johnson, the same irresponsible spoiled flake of a journalist who got a bit bored trying to report accurately on the European parliament so he started simply making shit up instead. He is largely responsible for starting the "bonkers Brussels" myths that so many leave voters fell for in the EU referendum. He wrote stories about the EU declaring snails as fish, and EU directives to standardise the smell of manure, ban prawn cocktail crisps and standardise condom sizes. This nonsense was published unchecked and people believed it. Boris Johnson was a purveyor of fake news.
"But Michael Gove is a Times columnist!"
Yeah, that'd be Michael Gove, the man responsible for an embarrassingly sycophantic interview with Donald Trump that was about as hard-hitting as a headbutt from a sea-monkey.
And perhaps most inane of all...
"Oh, it is just delicious that George Osborne can make mischief by trolling Theresa May in the pages of the Evening Standard!"
This is not what a newspaper is for. No newspaper should exist for a self-serving editor, particularly one who already has plenty of opportunities to publicly air his views, to settle scores, to use it for his own personal vendettas. This is not the same as holding the government to account. It is all about George Osborne's ego. It is about him being arrogant enough to assume he can do some newspaper editing in the morning and a spot of parliament in the afternoon and do justice to both jobs.
There is no way George Osborne can do a credible job of editing a newspaper for London. It was bad enough reading the Evening Standard on the commute home when Boris Johnson was mayor. The level of arse-kissing was off the chain. I honestly don't know what Boris would have had to do to be criticised by the Evening Standard in that grim era. Deep-fry a few live kittens outside Buckingham Palace, perhaps? Then the paper backed Zac Goldsmith even as the wheels fell off his mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan won the election convincingly and ever since, the coverage of his time in City Hall has been very fair and balanced.
Whether fair and balanced coverage of City Hall will continue when Osborne takes the reins remains to be seen. But it is impossible for him to be an objective editor overseeing the stories that affect Londoners when he has been responsible for votes in parliament that affect Londoners. He is a mess of conflicting ideologies and competing priorities.
He is arrogant enough to think he can remain as MP for Tatton, in England's north-west while editing a London paper. George Osborne has been the mouthpiece for the largely vacuous Tory policy of creating a "Northern powerhouse", of developing the north of England and moving away from a London-centric economy. This is at odds with the unabashedly pro-London stance of the Evening Standard. Can readers expect to be urged to leave the capital for the north?
He voted for the Health and Social Care Act 2012, an act which led to the creation of Clinical Commissioning Groups, which are putting health services and, in some areas, entire hospitals under threat in London. Will he ensure the government is held to account in the coming months and years if and when London loses essential health services?
Despite being pro-remain, he voted against seeking to protect the residence rights of EU citizens lawfully resident in the UK post-Brexit, despite London being a city that will be seriously depleted in multiple professions if we cannot guarantee the rights of EU citizens to stay on here after the negotiations to leave the EU are complete. Osborne can claim all he likes that he is offering resistance to a hard Brexit but on this issue, he is on the same page as Theresa May. There were two votes on the same issue last year and he was absent for both, hardly the actions of a man committed to wanting the best for London. Yet he is set to edit a paper in a largely pro-remain city where plenty of readers will be uncertain of their own fate or that of friends, lovers, colleagues and neighbours.
He has voted consistently for a reduction in spending on welfare and for a reduction in housing benefit for council tenants with a spare bedroom (the so-called bedroom tax). Unsurprisingly, these laws have done nothing to alleviate poverty in London or address the shortage of affordable housing in the capital, particularly for workers in essential services and low-income earners.
Will he as editor of the Evening Standard be able to look such tough issues squarely in the eye and ensure they are covered properly? Or will be simply play-act at editing a newspaper, leave the hard work to the rest of the staff and return each night to one of his lovely, warm houses, secure in the knowledge that there will be people on the streets of London using copies of the Evening Standard as bedlinen?
Photography: duncan c/Flickr