The paper’s sub-editors have just had their hours cut to save money. Then in comes an editor who already has five jobs. One of which, only recently announced, comes with a £650,000 salary.
Four of those jobs, admittedly, are part-time – though between them they should net George Osborne a little over £1.5million a year. One wonders why he feels the need to edit the Standard as well.
Two possible motivations suggest themselves.
One is the realisation of a long-held ambition. In 1993, when he left Oxford University, he wanted to be a journalist.
After failing to land a place on the apprenticeship scheme at The Times, he got an interview at The Economist, and was turned down there as well. He did do a bit of freelancing on the Daily Telegraph’s diary column, but that hardly makes him a qualified journalist.
Even Piers Morgan, Andy Coulson and Rebekah Wade (now Brooks), who all looked startlingly under-qualified when Rupert Murdoch handed them the reins of the late, lamented News of the World, weren’t that under-qualified.
Now, suddenly, Osborne’s in the big chair of London’s most widely read paper. A paper which, though it’s given away free and has only ‘local’ circulation, has more readers than every daily paper except The Sun and the Daily Mail. It would have looked a fabulous toy to the boy he once was.
But maybe the greater motivation is the opportunity he now has for revenge on Theresa May.
The PM didn’t just sack him as Chancellor when she moved in next door but piled on maximum humiliation in the way she did so. The arch Remainer now has the perfect platform from which to trumpet “I Told You So” as May’s hell-bent pursuit of Brexit sinks a disunited kingdom further into the mire.
Not that Osborne himself ran the economy well. To put it mildly. It was the austerity he plunged the less well-off into that got us into this mess. And all for the sake of further enriching the rich (like himself) while further impoverishing the poor – and a lot of the less-poor too. But the future scarcely looks any brighter under his successors.
It’s hard to know whether his latest appointment says more about the dire state of politics or the dire state of the press. The Twitter storm erupted almost immediately from both quarters.
The Lib Dems’ press office tweeted: “This doesn’t bode well for our coverage in the Standard.” To which one wag rapidly responded: “I don’t know why you say that, you lot propped him up for five years.” Fair comments, both.
But the political repercussions go further than which parties can expect a rough ride from Osborne’s paper (all of them, I suspect).
Many people have questioned whether it’s right for an MP to have another job while also collecting a £74,000 salary for sitting in the House. The electors of Tatton, whom Osborne is supposed to represent, have a right to feel let down. The question is so pertinent it may even lead to a change in the rules.
And it’s not just about whether it’s possible to do two full-time jobs properly. You might also think there’s a conflict of interest between the roles of MP and editor. After all, it’s the job of the press to hold politicians to account, in theory at least.
So what of Osborne’s other jobs? The combined income certainly gives extra meaning to the slash-and-burn Chancellor’s cynical comment that “we’re all in this together”.
Of course there’s nothing new in former ministers cashing in massively. Tony Blair is only the most recently, most egregiously visible of those who have grown very rich indeed trading on their experience of the corridors of power.
This is perfectly legal – as is Osborne’s lucrative few-days-a-month post with investment company BlackRock. Even though Parliament’s Advisory Committee on Business Appointments advised against it.
Whether it should be legal is another matter entirely.
In my view, it should be illegal to profit from politics, beyond the salary and expenses that come directly from it. And, as with crime, that should continue to apply for life.
But that’s the ethics of the ideal world, not the law of the real one. And we know who gets to make the laws.
Contrary to appearances, it’s not actually newspaper editors. Though they sometimes seem to have a bigger say than they ought.