'It smacks of greed and the accumulation of power': The backlash against George Osborne editing the Evening Standard

George Osborne, (R) and Greece’s then finance minister Yanis Varoufakis in 2015. (Photo by Matt Dunham – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

LONDON — The surprise appointment former Chancellor George Osborne as the new editor of the London Evening Standard newspaper has led to calls that he should resign as an MP and accusations of conflicts of interest.

A leading anti-corruption group has even claimed that the appointment damages “the reputation of parliament and democracy” in Britain.

Osborne, who has almost no journalistic experience, was named as the successor to Sarah Sands as editor-in-chief of the Evening Standard on Friday. Osborne plans to fulfil the role alongside his work as MP for Tatton, a constituency in Cheshire, and a one-day-a-week advisory role to asset manager BlackRock, which earns him £650,000 a year.

Osborne’s decision to maintain all his roles has led to harsh criticism from governance groups, journalists, and opposition MPs.

The harshest criticism has come from Transparency International, a nonprofit group that campaigns against corruption. Robert Barrington, Transparency International UK Executive Director, says in a scathing statement on Friday:

“The proposition is that a sitting MP, from the governing party, is appointed Editor of a major British newspaper — in addition to his new position as a highly-paid City adviser. It smacks of greed and the accumulation of power, undermining the Government’s intention to create a country that works for everyone.

“Mr Osborne is clearly being badly advised and we can only hope that others help him to understand the damage he is doing to the reputation of parliament and democracy at a critical time in the country’s history. The conflict of interest is so clear it is astonishing that it should have been proposed. A key role of the media is to hold politicians to account; to have a recent Minister or an MP running the editorial line of a newspaper certainly calls into question whether this principle can be upheld.

“It is inconceivable that ACOBA, the advisory body for political business appointments, could approve this move, and therefore extraordinary that it should have been proposed. If ACOBA approve this they will be signing their own death-warrant, confirming they are not fit for purpose and unable to guard against conflicts of interest and consequences of the revolving door — two of the most prevalent corruption risks in UK politics.

“This case further underlines the need for the Government to press ahead urgently with the much delayed Anti-Corruption Strategy, that must clearly address the integrity of our democratic institutions as part of its remit.”

Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas is also calling for Osborne to step down as an MP and be stripped of his Privy Council membership, which gives the former Tory chancellor access to highly privileged government information.

Lucas says in a statement:

“Osborne’s appointment as Editor of the Standard raises very serious questions about both his own ability to continue as an MP and the newspaper’s impartiality. At the very least George Osborne should be stripped of his title as a Privy Councillor and barred from any secure briefings that the role gives him.

“The truth is that by taking this job George Osborne has shown contempt for his constituents. The only honourable thing would be to step down as an MP so he can concentrate on making money from City firms and learning how to do a job at the Standard that he’s entirely unqualified for.”

Labour MP John Mann told BBC Radio 5 Live: “He’s taking the mickey out of the taxpayer… and he should stand down as an MP.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the appointment “makes mockery of media neutrality and insults the voters he is supposed to serve.”

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) also expressed disbelief at the appointment, which came as a shock to all but the tiniest handful of Standard journalists.

Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, says in a statement:

“It feels like we’re 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 staff 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.”

Osborne has not responded to the criticism. He is due to take up the editor role in May, a source told Business Insider, and the job must still be approved by ACOBA. 

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