News that former Chancellor George Osborne has been appointed as the next editor of the London Evening Standard has surprised most.
The Tory MP for Tatton, Cheshire, visited Standard staff today at their office in Northcliffe House, High Street Kensington.
— Jessica Noah Morgan (@jnoahmorgan) March 17, 2017
He is reported to have said: “I need to learn from you lot, I’ve run the country but I’ve never run a newspaper”.
It is understood that staff on the Standard and Independent, which is also owned by Evgeny Lebedev, have been told not to tweet about Osborne’s appointment.
One anonymous insider told Press Gazette the newsroom had been “stunned” at the “mad” announcement.
They said: “It is both surprising and unsurprising given the owner’s love of creating a buzz,” adding that Osborne had made “quite a good impression” on staff during his visit.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “This is taking multi-tasking to a whole new level. Surely a newspaper like the Evening Standard deserves a full-time editor. Never mind one who is so obviously biased against the voting intentions of the vast majority of Londoners.”
Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said: “It feels like we’re entered an alternative reality where #fakenews is suddenly true. There will be shock and disbelief among staff at this announcement.
“Genuinely qualified journalists who would have done this hugely important job seriously are seeing it snatched away in a blatant, cynical political move.
“While George Osborne won’t stand down as an MP and will spend his afternoons in parliament, staff on the paper staff are being asked to take pay cuts and reduce their hours because the second edition has been scrapped.
“We’ll be asking the London Assembly to scrutinise this move as part of their investigation into the state of London media next week. Now that he is a journalist we, of course, look forward to his application to join the union.”
Robert Barrington, executive director of Transparency International UK said: “The proposition is that a sitting MP, from the governing party, is appointed Editor of a major British newspaper – in addition to his new position as a highly-paid City adviser. It smacks of greed and the accumulation of power, undermining the Government’s intention to create a country that works for everyone.
“Mr Osborne is clearly being badly advised and we can only hope that others help him to understand the damage he is doing to the reputation of Parliament and democracy at a critical time in the country’s history. The conflict of interest is so clear it is astonishing that it should have been proposed.
“A key role of the media is to hold politicians to account; to have a recent Minister or an MP running the editorial line of a newspaper certainly calls into question whether this principle can be upheld.
“It is inconceivable that ACOBA, the advisory body for political business appointments, could approve this move, and therefore extraordinary that it should have been proposed. If ACOBA approve this they will be signing their own death-warrant, confirming they are not fit for purpose and unable to guard against conflicts of interest and consequences of the revolving door – two of the most prevalent corruption risks in UK politics.
“This case further underlines the need for the Government to press ahead urgently with the much delayed Anti-Corruption Strategy, that must clearly address the integrity of our democratic institutions as part of its remit.”
Speaking to journalists outside the Standard office today, Osborne said: “There are plenty of examples of MPs who have edited newspapers and magazines over the years and I’m going to continue to play a big part in British public life and I’m looking forward to it.
He added: “I’m going to work hard to make sure the Evening Standard is a fantastic publication and the go-to place to get your news and information in this exciting age.”
Osborne ignored a question from Sky News on whether he could guarantee a free press in London while he was still a sitting MP.
Reactions on Twitter included some noting that Osborne had been rejected for traineeships by the Times and Economist:
My threshold for being shocked just rose a little more: George Osborne new Editor of Evening Standard. And it's not even fake news.
— Andrew Neil (@afneil) March 17, 2017
When made Editor of The Sunday Times I was criticised because I hadn't been an editor. Mr Osborne hasn't even been a journalist.
— Andrew Neil (@afneil) March 17, 2017
George Osborne's Fleet Street ambitions go back even further than his political ones – rejected for traineeships by Times and Economist.
— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) March 17, 2017
Breaking: I will shortly be announced as editor of Heat magazine….
— Ed Miliband (@Ed_Miliband) March 17, 2017
.@timfarron You start on Monday, Tim.
— Viz Comic (@vizcomic) March 17, 2017
— Emma Barnett (@Emmabarnett) March 17, 2017
George Osborne will discover he didn't he begin to understand the true meaning of "austerity" until his first day in a newspaper office
— Nick Cohen (@NickCohen4) March 17, 2017
Big question facing George Osborne. Will he keep Nick Clegg on as a columnist? And at £500 per column, is he worth it? pic.twitter.com/Ah0PlXQepK
— William Turvill (@wturvill) March 17, 2017
— Robert Peston (@Peston) March 17, 2017
George Osborne might want to take a few editions out of the archives: pic.twitter.com/tSEnfGCeFs
— Larry the Cat (@Number10cat) March 17, 2017
It is fair to describe Downing Street spokesman as speechless when asked about @George_Osborne editing Evening Standard in morning lobby
— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) March 17, 2017
Genuine jaw on floor moment
PA: George Osborne had been appointed editor of the London Evening Standard, its owner, Evgeny Lebedev, said.
— Tim Shipman (@ShippersUnbound) March 17, 2017
This appointment is bad news for the reputation of politics, journalism and the relationship between the two.
— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) March 17, 2017