Dear Mr. George Osborne,
Many congratulations on your new position editing the Evening Standard, one of the free newspapers in London. It’s going to be an exciting ride for you – if you’re allowed to do it properly.
There are a few issues you’ll need to look out for. First, let’s clear one thing up; you once wrote a piece for me for a supplement I was editing at the New Statesman and frankly it was excellent – independent, no puff, on time and to length. This bodes well.
However, that’s not the same as editing someone else’s piece. And editing a single piece is not the same as envisioning and putting together an entire publication.
I’m not normally a fan but Guido Fawkes has published a set of potential conflicts of interests that are going to face you from day one.
The one that leaps out at me is the fact that you’re due either in your constituency or at the House of Commons during the time that the main news meetings will be taking place for the day.
News meetings are important, they decide what’s actually going into the paper. This isn’t a simple paper exercise; juggling exactly what’s going on the news pages and how to prioritise them is how you sell the paper.
It’s a process that can be learned, by all means, but do you really have the time and inclination? There are some who think it’s time you got a proper job, but you may not be one of them.
Conflicts of interests
The Fawkes piece highlights a good few conflicts of interests, but here’s another. According to the papers, you’re pulling in £650K per year from BlackRock and a shedload more from speeches.
I don’t resent that like some people do. As ex-chancellor your appeal probably has a limited shelf life, I don’t blame you for making the most of it while it lasts. But do you really believe it’s my business to know the amount? If not, you’re in trouble, because it’s in your paper’s interests to report it. And what if it’s one of your friends? It’s no secret that you got on fine with David Cameron as prime minister. What happens when someone feeds you the fees he’s earning?
Are you prepared to end your friendship for your readers’ sake? Editing and writing about your friends can be dangerous, and many of your friends and ex colleagues are public figures.
Should you stand down?
Guido Fawkes is calling for your appointment to be blocked. I’m not so sure. Your old friend the former prime minister has gone. You’re no great pal of his replacement and you’re still opposed to Brexit. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that view, I wonder whether you’d be in a better position to express it as the head of London’s free paper than as an MP?
Dig a little further and you realise that your constituency is among those under threat from the redrawing of the boundaries before the next general election. Unless there’s a sharp realignment from Theresa May between now and then, or unless she falls (and given the political events of the last couple of years I rule nothing out), I don’t see a way back for you. The publicity says you’ll stay MP for Tatton whilst being editor. Never mind waiting to see whether your appointment is blocked, I wonder whether pulling out early and provoking another byelection might be a better option, giving you a cleaner entry and kicking a political opponent in the teeth at the same time?
In fact I’m beginning to wonder whether you hadn’t already thought of all of that before any of this became public.
Oh, and if you need a media commentator I’m reassuringly expensive.