It was Wednesday 13th July last year when George Osborne was reportedly sacked as chancellor by Theresa May in her cabinet reshuffle. At that point the man once second in line to be Prime Minister was down to one job, as a member of parliament for Tatton. Now nine months later he has become chairman of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, a speaker at the Washington Speaker's Bureau, an adviser to Blackrock, a fellow at the McCain Institute and, announced this week, the new editor of London’s Evening Standard newspaper.
Despite the astronomical wages of some of the other jobs, it is Osborne’s latest role which has attracted the biggest criticism. There is so much wrong with his appointment as editor it is hard to know where to start. Aside from his severe lack of journalism experience, Editor Osborne is a slap in the face to hardworking journalists and as a sitting MP, his role in Parliament directly clashes and contradicts with being part of the media which should hold politicians and people in power to account. His appointment blurs the line between government and media to a greater extent than ever before and drags both estates to a lower level of operating.
Media and Politics Too Close?
The media has long been held up as the fourth estate of power, print journalism and the rest of the press acting as an independent body reporting on, and holding to account, the most powerful and important people in the country. There has always been a close relationship between media and politicians but there has been an unwritten rule that there is a separation and one holds the other to account. George Osborne’s appointment drags both institutions down a level and raises questions about how close the relationship between the two areas has become.
When George Osborne as an MP is part of a vote in Parliament or his government faces a scandal how can he possibly cover it in the Standard impartially? The new editor will also have a vote on areas such as press regulation and will be able to report on Parliamentary proceedings in whichever way he chooses. His new role is also directly in opposition to his role representing the constituents of Tatton, when Parliament debates or meets will he be in attendance or in the Evening Standard’s office? This is before mentioning how the newspaper may cover Labour or any opposition parties fairly and impartially.
Appointing a sitting Member of Parliament, a full time responsibility itself, to an editor of a newspaper, which is not only a second full time job but also a major voice in public discussion, raises so many constitutional questions. It damages the reputation of both institutions and will only increase the beliefs that some hold that elites look after themselves and the media does not report accurately or fairly.
The Media’s Own Goal
George Osborne is not the first politician to enter the media and is unlikely to be the last. Michael Gove has a current column in The Times, Boris Johnson has previously been a regular contributor to The Spectator as an MP while Ed Balls and Ruth Davidson have both reached high levels of both newspapers and government. However Osborne’s appointment to an editorship is a new notch on this scale of crossovers.
For a man who has only experienced journalism as editor of a student newspaper at Oxford University, the job at The Evening Standard will be a major leap in the dark. Osborne failed in gaining a place on The Times’ trainee scheme following university, forcing him in to freelance work before working within the Conservative Party. His severe lack of journalistic experience makes this appointment look like gross mismanagement of a newspaper and a white flag to falling standards in media.
The Evening Standard is taking a big gamble in this appointment, although Osborne is a well-known name, his journalism experience will be a major drawback in his responsibilities as an editor. With the former chancellor balancing six jobs the Standard also risks paying their new editor a full time wage for a part time commitment. This also sends the wrong message to aspiring and current journalists, a majority of whom work hard to investigate and write interesting stories, in an industry already battling fake news, falling readership and sensationalism.
As the media faces attacks from world leaders and a battle to stay impartial and report facts, this appointment is a self-inflicted wound that will damage public opinion in the whole industry and could yet prove to be another step towards the end of traditional newspapers.