What a privilege to be able to welcome George Osborne to the ranks of journalistic colleaguery. The former News of the World cover star and chancellor is named the new editor of the London Evening Standard, a role he will combine with his jobs as MP for Tatton and being a £650,000-a-year escort for an investment fund. Osborne has now been a Tory chancellor, an investment banker and a newspaper journalist – a sequence whose next two terms are estate agent and serial sex killer.
Primarily, it is a thrill to see Osborne finally get his break in journalism, over two decades after failing to get on the Times graduate trainee scheme. Bless him for keeping on plugging away – it’s so easy to get discouraged by a setback like that. My advice to young journalists seeking to emulate his success is to consider adding a similar interest point to your own CV. Have you had experience of running an austerity con? Did you probably destroy the union? Pop those alongside your freelance local paper cuttings and see how you get on.
Announcing the appointment, the Evening Standard’s preposterous proprietor, Evgeny Lebedev, declared: “I am proud to have an editor of such substance.” What substance? Is it crystal meth? Amusingly – and presumably intentionally – Lebedev went on to underscore every criticism ever made of the Cameroons by describing Osborne as “London through and through”. Well, quite. Beneath that heritage exterior lies a double basement and a sense that one would rather be dining with Richard Caring and Matthew Freud than spend 15 minutes anywhere that could be described as Tory heartland.
In many ways, of course, Osborne is perfectly suited to newspapers in this day and age. He has extensive experience both in failing to meet financial targets and in wildly misjudging his own relevance. I long to hear stories from the Standard morning news conference, where Osborne throws out story ideas in the classic editorial style. “Is that all you’ve got? Christ, I’ve earned £10,000 from BlackRock in the time you’ve taken to come up with that shit.” And as a dedicated fancy dresser, we must expect him to mothball his hi-vis jacket and hard hat in favour of a grey cardigan or lanyard appealing for a liver donor.
He certainly isn’t the first political figure to edit the Standard – Michael Foot was promoted to the position at the age of just 28. Having said that, the trajectory did use to run in the other direction. For the likes of Foot (or even Boris Johnson), an editorship was regarded, as a stepping stone to something greater in politics. Still, the fact that Osborne has done it the other way round can only – only! – be read as a huge boost for British journalism. Until I read this news, I’d heard vaguely that the industry was in a bit of trouble. But the revelation that the exchequer was a mere staging post on Osborne’s journey to Fleet Street casts things in an entirely different light, and I look forward to filing this column to Philip Hammond when he outgrows his current role in due course.
As for Lebedev, no appointment by him could really be regarded as eyebrow-raising – particularly when you’re as Botoxed as the nine circles of his friendship inferno are. A starfucker of thermonuclear pretensions, Lebedev is marginally more likely to dip-dye his horse’s mane for a W magazine feature than he is to appoint it features editor. But only marginally.
I suppose he shares Osborne’s sense that we are all in things together, and consequently can be found jetting round the world conducting vanity interviews for his papers at the same time as announcing ever more vicious cuts in his various newsrooms. Back home, he serves as a sort of salon host for people whose faces have been so eaten by the mask of fame that they no longer retain any proper friends. Only the insecure or power-addled could fail to detect in Lebedev a ghastly character who has – infuriatingly, for him – yet to break on to even the B-list of recognisable ghastlies as far as the general public is concerned.
His house, in the grounds of Hampton Court, has appeared in interiors magazines almost as frequently as Osborne’s family wallpaper business. For all Lebedev’s excruciating flourishes – I seem to recall one room being described to World of Interiors as “Elton’s bedroom” – he frequently seems to be excluded from the journalists’ jokes, a fate that we must hope does not befall his new editor. “Mr Lebedev’s oculus is lined with shards of blue amethyst,” noted the New York Times (I bet it is). At least in the American publications, he gets away with this house being described as “his family’s estate outside London”. Yes, he’s one of the Richmond Lebedevs – not the Shropshire ones.
Still, we must obviously wait and see what Osborne makes of his new position. One of the more questionable pleasures of the age has been to watch people who used to be journalists cocking up the country, and people who used to cock up the country becoming journalists. What fluidity there is between these two pursuits. In the former category we have leave figureheads Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, who got their start in journalism. In the latter category we may now place newspaper editor George Osborne. Indeed, he may soon be joined again by Gove himself, who is often fancied as a future editor of the Times or Sunday Times, and whose crusade against the “invincible arrogance” of elites will never extend to himself, or his friends and former friends. On these people go, don’t they, while the rest of the world just has to read all about it.