Writer Chris Park says former chancellor George Osborne – who remains an MP – taking over as boss at the Evening Standard is not only a conflict of interest, it’s a huge insult
LET’S first take a moment to offer our congratulations to the Right Honourable George Osborne, MP for Tatton, for securing a sixth job in such a competitive market where many struggle to get a foothold and often find them themselves in low-skilled, under-payed jobs. He’s had a hard time of it!
In May, Osborne will become the editor of The Evening Standard – a London newspaper with a circulation of nearly one million and a readership of nearly double that. The role will add to his bursting resume, which also includes a stint at a US fund management firm where he rakes in £650,000 p.a. for four days’ work a month.
You can’t help but feel Britain’s meritocracy has gone to the dogs when the City elite – the Ye Olde English Oxbridge grads born into rural affluence – continually monopolise the highest offices of public life.
In May, Osborne will become the editor of The Evening Standard – a London newspaper with a circulation of nearly one million and a readership of nearly double that.
In fact, we’ve been told he only applied for the job when friends contacted him to ask for advice with their own applications – I suspect these friendships are no longer blossoming!
I realise this post risks turning into a cynical pseudo-Marxist analysis, but the whole thing just stinks. It’s the exact opposite of what we’re taught (at least in state schools) – that getting a job, especially one as prestigious as the position of editor, is based on merit, skills, experience, etc.
I have my Journalism 1a class from first year of uni – quite literally making me more qualified to do this job than Osborne.
I don’t totally discredit Osborne’s competency for this role – I’m sure he’ll be useful when it comes to the broad strategic direction of the paper and its finances, and I understand there are different routes into jobs. But my understanding of the position of editor (maybe this is now old-fashioned) is that it is a job rooted in the fundamentals of journalism – indeed, it is the very highest position in a news outlet.
I would be curious to know if Osborne was familiar with the news writing formula; or if he knows the best sub-editing techniques; or if he knows the essence of a good feature article; or the basic legal dilemmas faced by journalists every day.
The role will add to his bursting resume, which also includes a stint at a US fund management firm where he rakes in £650,000 p.a. for four days’ work a month.
How he can call himself an editor without even a basic knowledge of journalism (never mind practical experience) is hard to believe. I imagine his role at the Evening Standard will be more ceremonial, giving a seal of approval, deciding the paper’s broad direction – a manager rather than an editor.
Maybe Osborne can find a way to adapt his competencies; but his decision to stay on as an MP is incredible. Being a member of parliament is more than a full-time job – if you’re an MP who doesn’t understand this then you are a terrible MP.
To some extent, it can be appropriate for an MP to have another job; but George Osborne’s current CV is incredulous. He is either arrogant to the point of disbelief or totally naïve about what being the editor of a paper with a circulation of one million will involve: it can be a 100-hour week according to some editors.
His justification for taking the job because he can “edit the paper in the morning and vote in the afternoon” is a naïve attempt to reconcile the impossible and will fail to satisfy a scrupulous, distrusting public. Maybe he’s on a zero-hours contract at The Evening Standard.
Nonetheless, BBC media editor Amol Rajan was the first to break the story and his analysis makes for insightful reading.
The conflict of interest is astounding; and at a time when public trust in the press and politicians is so low.
And finally, let’s have a superficial take: a prominent governing politician is now in charge of a media outlet whose role is to inform people of the facts and hold the powerful to account when appropriate. The conflict of interest is astounding; and at a time when public trust in the press and politicians is so low.
Objectivity is in peril. How will The Evening Standard cover negative stories about Osborne’s government? How will it cover the Labour London mayor? What’s in the public interest, and what the people of London need to know about, is now decided by a politician whose political success relies on positive publicity – and this agenda is filling the pages of a newspaper with a circulation of one million.
Surely you can see the problem here. Indeed, many have suggested he has taken the role as a platform for vengeance after Theresa May sacked him. Others are already calling for Osborne to resign as an MP or for this new appointment to be investigated by parliament because it could breach ministerial code.
The upper echelons of Britain’s media and politics seem to unwittingly find new ways to feed populism like a fat pig. The manufactured caricature by the rightwing press of educated, reasonably well-off voters concerned with the consequences of decisions based on transient and vacuous populism – the ‘liberal elite’ – has been effective in detracting from the true elite: George Osborne and his ilk.
Picture courtesy of Richter Frank-Jurgen
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