Osborne Is An Editor Who Simply Can't Make Decisions Without Fear Or Favour
First, the good news. George Osborne will make a fine editor of London's Evening Standard. He’s supremely well connected, intelligent, has a wide array of interests, will bring in great guest columnists and is supported by a brilliant team of journalists. As a former executive on the paper, I can safely say that this last point is true.
There, got that out of the way.
Here’s the bad news. His appointment is a scandal.
One of the principle functions of a newspaper is to stand up for its readers against politicians, financial behemoths and vested interests. Not get into bed with them.
George Osborne is a sitting Tory MP employed to look after a well-to-do part of Cheshire, about 200 miles from the Evening Standard’s London office. He’s also employed by the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, whose global influence over business and our savings is possibly even more powerful than Presidents and Prime Ministers. His closest friends run banks, lobbying companies and media giants.
This is a man who, through no fault of his own, will find it impossible to be objective on any number of issues.
He's a Conservative politician in a Labour city. A multi-millionaire whose family – on his and his wife’s side – is resolutely aristocratic yet is meant to campaign for some of Britain’s poorest. A highly-paid financial adviser for a powerful company that needs extreme scrutiny from a free and fair press. A man who has so many jobs that he can’t possibly be more than a part-time editor for a newspaper staffed by underpaid and overworked full-time journalists.
Offering advice and counsel to a hedge fund for £650,000 a year is one thing. That advice doesn't have to be taken. But making decisions as an editor is entirely different - especially if you are already representing extremely powerful political and financial organisations.
Clearly the Lebedev family, which owns the Evening Standard and has shadowy links to both the KGB and Vladimir Putin, thinks it’s a smart move that will get the paper talked about and perhaps give it some much-needed sparkle. In those respects, they’ve pulled off an unlikely win.
But for anyone out there who regards an editor as being a heady mix of candid reporting, truthful analysis, fearless opposition, transparent agendas and some old-fashioned journalistic talent married with inspirational leadership, this is a truly miserable appointment.
Of course there are already some who are lining up to praise Osborne before he’s even taken his first 6am conference. Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail excuses the controversy by citing the fact that Labour MP Michael Foot once edited the paper. That was before being elected as an MP and the only 'extras' he busied himself with were a few dull book reviews.
Then, most incredibly, the BBC’s Media Editor Amol Rajan – a former employee of the Lebedevs - tweeted enthusiastically about it being an incredible coup for his old bosses. This is the BBC, remember. Impartial, objective, scrutinising BBC.
It’s bad enough that politics today is filled with former journalists who think that having the talent to dash off a 1200-word opinion piece makes them an ideal candidate to be a politician. But to have politicians – serving politicians – control one of the levers of power that’s specifically designed to hold them to account, well that’s deeply troubling.
On the other hand, maybe George just fancies a few free tickets to the opera and the occasional lunch with the newspaper’s wonderful restaurant critic Fay Maschler. In which case, I say this – you lucky bugger.