George Osborne’s appointment as editor of the Evening Standard is a fascinating move. It is just another step in the career of a very talented man, for sure, but also indicative of wider political change. Many Remainers no longer see a future in Parliament. They are seeking an alternative platform from which to make their case, and from this could emerge an entirely new political dynamic.
The irony of this appointment is that it will confirm the suspicion that militant Remain today is a cosy, elitist project dominated by the capital.
A lot of voters will be asking themselves: “Hasn’t Mr Osborne got a job already?” He is still an MP for Tatton. There is nothing wrong with MPs having jobs outside Parliament; it can help keep them in touch with the real world. But Mr Osborne now has a large portfolio to juggle and constituents might wonder how he can represent them to the full if he is worrying about newspaper deadlines. Nevertheless, the Tatton seat faces the axe at the next election and Mr Osborne might be thinking of his own future first. It would certainly be a waste of his ability if he should retire into obscurity at such a young age.
It comes as no surprise that, as a Remainer, he should seek to position himself for a prominent role outside of the Commons. Inside Parliament, Remain has been beaten. This week, the Commons ended the Lords revolt over the Brexit Bill. Soon, the Prime Minister will trigger Article 50. Even if Remain wanted to fight a rearguard action, it would struggle to find the numbers. Tim Farron’s Lib Dems have only nine seats. Labour is in disarray, its decline matched by the collapse of the Dutch centre-Left in Wednesday’s elections. Perhaps the party kicking up the most effective pro-EU stink is the SNP – but it is not a rallying point for wider British dissent.
It is outside of Parliament that the liberal elite is gathering strength: academia, the courts, think tanks and, of course, parts of the media. The reappearance of Tony Blair on the national stage, the legal campaign of Gina Miller, this appointment of Mr Osborne to run a newspaper with significant reach in the capital – it all points to a fight back, an attempt to shape public opinion. Evgeny Lebedev, the owner of the Evening Standard, said that Mr Osborne’s philosophy: “Closely matches that of many of our readers”. He spoke of an outlook that was “socially liberal and economically pragmatic”, but could more simply have said “Remain”. In fact, that is misleading: 40 per cent of London voted for Leave, and some of the outlying boroughs did so by enormous margins. London is too diverse to be stereotyped politically.
Nevertheless, establishing the Evening Standard as a publication opposed to a certain type of Brexit injects some much-needed life into the Remain side. The Labour leadership of Mr Corbyn, who dealt with the Government’s tax U-turn so poorly last week, has stymied the emergence of a serious and energetic opposition. Elsewhere in this paper, Baroness Shirley Williams calls on Labour moderates to break away from their party – either to establish a successful alternative or to shock Labour into dumping Mr Corbyn.
Some change is certainly is necessary. It is necessary to deliver the degree of scrutiny of the Government that voters deserve; necessary to rebalance politics within the Commons. Even though this newspaper is for Brexit, we recognise how absurd it is that there is no coherent force within the Commons holding Mrs May to account. Perhaps Mr Osborne will try to establish one outside Parliament in order to do Labour’s job for it. It is notable that he has already received a warm congratulations from Sadiq Khan, the politically savvy Mayor of London.
None the less, the irony of this appointment is that it will confirm the suspicion that militant Remain today is a cosy, elitist project dominated by the capital. Rejection of the establishment is why some people voted Brexit. A Remain crusade run by the establishment is unlikely to win them back.