A WAVE of incredulity greeted the news yesterday that former chancellor George Osborne had been appointed editor of the London Evening Standard.
Osborne – sacked by incoming Prime Minister Theresa May last year – will edit the paper four days a week, but will remain as Tory MP for Tatton, in Cheshire.
His new role comes on top of a £650,000-a-year post with US asset management fund the BlackRock Investment Institute; his £74,000 MP’s salary; and more than £780,000 he has received for making 14 speeches since last September.
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John Nicolson, the SNP’s media spokesperson, told The National: “I don’t see how he can be an MP, a banker, and an editor simultaneously. He also says he will speak up for London and will oppose the Government if it does something against London’s interests. This raises the interesting prospect of him lambasting the Government in print in the morning as an editor then going off as a whipped MP to vote for the same policy in the afternoon.
“Looking forward too, to his coverage of the Tory expenses scandal.”
A source at the Standard said staff were “shocked and stunned” by the appointment, and Laura Davison, national organiser for the journalists’ union the NUJ, said: “It feels like we’ve 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 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.”
Angus Reilly, chairman of the Tatton Constituency Labour Party, said Osborne should not continue as an MP. In a statement on the branch’s Facebook page, he said: “The news today has only proven what the people of Tatton have known all along: George Osborne’s focus is not on the people of Tatton, where it should be. He should not continue as a Member of Parliament.”
And former Tatton MP Martin Bell, whom Osborne replaced in 2001, reacted to the news on BBC 5 live. The former war correspondent said: “It sounds like fake news to me. Are you sure it isn’t?”
Asked if he thought it was possible for Osborne to do the jobs of MP and newspaper editor, he said: “If he’s Superman, I guess he can do it.”
There was disbelief too on social media and Edinburgh-based Canongate books said in a series of tweets: “Delighted to announce my new role as Director General of the BBC. In unrelated news, Book at Bedtime is to be renamed Canongate Storytime.
“I’m hugely excited by this new role, though I will continue to fulfil my current job at Canongate with as much enthusiasm as always. “I’ve long felt there could be more opportunities for publicity for all books on air, and can’t wait to get started.”
The Standard said Osborne was now seeking the advice of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) on his new role.
Evgeny Lebedev, the paper’s owner, said Osborne was someone of “huge political achievement, and economic and cultural authority”, adding: “Once he put himself forward for the position, he was the obvious choice.”