There is no reason whatsoever why George Osborne should not both be MP for Tatton and Editor of the Evening Standard. Being an MP is not, repeat not, a “job” – any more or less than being a local councillor is a job. If his constituents in Cheshire are unhappy with the arrangement, then they have a means to hand of letting him know in due course. Ditto his Association.
So much for theory. But what about practice? As it happens, an event lies in between Osborne’s rather, ahem, counter-intuitive appointment and the next election – namely, the boundary review. If the proposed reduction in seats passes the Commons, the former Chancellor’s constituency will be abolished on the current proposals. And if he then, as he has said he intends to, applies for a new Cheshire seat, the Association in question may enquire how – in his own words today – “despite being a Conservative MP” his “only interest will be to give a voice to all Londoners”. This is a conflict not so much of interest but of loyalties, and even a man as dexterous as Osborne may find difficulty in squaring it. And that is before one gets into how he will reconcile his passion for London with his dedication to his Northern Powerhouse. His statement has a stab at reconciling the two, but not altogether successfully.
It will be said that the Chancellor is unsuited to edit the paper, since his journalistic CV is restricted to a few sessions on the Daily Telegraph diary. This is bosh. The mere fact of his appointment triumphantly demonstrates that he possesses an essential journalistic qualification in spades: a sense of mischief. The news of his appointment will send a frisson of horror through the Government. But Theresa May can hardly say directly that he shouldn’t take up the post. Meanwhile, the chomping noise you hear in the background is Number Ten chewing its nails over what the new editor will have to say about Brexit, and City Hall doing the same over what he will have to say about the Mayoralty. Osborne will be able to tell a tale or two about life at the top of government – and about his exit from it – if he decides to do so. This could be fun. At any rate, he will relish his new power.
Tim Montgomerie had no experience in journalism when he set up ConservativeHome. But he made a success of it, and moved afterwards into the mainstream – at the Times. In this age of new and social media, you don’t need years of toil on the newsroom floor to become a successful editor. Perhaps it was ever thus. But although Downing Street can hardly force Osborne out of Parliament, and though too he may well get selected or reselected, I think he has made a choice. Having assumed an editor’s chair today, he is not going to leap out of it tomorrow – or in the near future. If he has to choose, then journalism rather than politics it looks like being…unless there is a convulsion that sweeps May and her Brexiteers out of office and himself and the Cameroons back in. The Standard‘s new editor may not be above using it to that end.
What is it about Osborne and well-heeled Russians? He famously got aboard Oleg Depraska’s yacht. Now he has taken charge at the helm of Evgeny Lebedev’s newspaper (while apparently not relinquishing his money-making at BlackRock). In the short-term, he has unleashed a clowder of cats in the Conservative Party’s dovecot. In the longer, this move looks like a step nearer Westminster’s exit door.