Osborne's new job confirms disturbing Tory dominance of the media | Roy Greenslade

From Johnson to Gove, Tories are revelling in their links to papers, and proprietors no longer try to hide their rightwing views

After the crop of cynical jokes about George Osborne becoming editor of the London Evening Standard, let’s get serious. However odd the appointment appears, and few journalists will think it anything other than that, is it really fair to suggest that the paper’s owner, Evgeny Lebedev, has taken leave of his senses?

Osborne is not the first person chosen to be a sort of figurehead editor, a man without any experience of newspaper mechanics.

Such people – think the TV newsreader Alastair Burnet at the Daily Express in the 1970s or Peregrine Worsthorne at the Sunday Telegraph in the 1980s – set the editorial tone. While they concern themselves with strategy, they leave deputies to deal with the details of production, design and the gathering of news.

Osborne has not been given the chair at the Standard because he writes clever headlines or knows how a paper is put together. He is unlikely to have learned that during his couple of weeks freelancing on the Daily Telegraph’s Peterborough diary in 1993.

Osborne, a born Conservative, has been a political animal ever since. It must be presumed that Lebedev believes the overt Tory partisanship, which has been the Standard’s long-held default position, will do no harm to his paper.

It is hard to imagine that the 900,000 people who pick it up at stations across London every evening will suddenly turn their backs on it. The product is very unlikely to suffer a boycott.

Some of Lebedev’s liberal-minded celebrity friends may raise their eyebrows. Then again, among his coterie there are those who have, like Osborne, favoured harsher regulation of newspapers following the Leveson inquiry.

However, seen from a wider political perspective, the appointment confirms a trend towards a “big C” Conservative media dominance that has disturbing democratic implications.

High-profile Tory MPs are revelling in their links to newspapers and, for their part, newspaper owners do not seek to conceal the connections. Rightwing proprietors and politicians are out and proud.

So Boris Johnson is the blue-eyed boy at the Daily Telegraph. Michael Gove enjoys working for the Times, doing an interview with Donald Trump while accompanied by Rupert Murdoch.

Evgeny Lebedev
Evgeny Lebedev: owner of the London Evening Standard: it is hard not to wonder if he displays a political naiveté. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Add on the fact that the Daily Mail is acting as a propagandist for the prime minister, Theresa May. And for that matter, Richard Desmond’s Daily Express enthusiastically has been doing the same job for Nigel Farage.

Gone are the days of pretence when editors disingenuously claimed to cover the news objectively. They no longer need the fig leaf because they exist in a safe haven where the opposition offers no threat to Tory hegemony.

Lebedev, who also owns the online-only Independent, has not previously suggested an allegiance to the Conservative party and it is hard not to wonder if he displays a political naiveté in his Osborne appointment.

In making the announcement he referred to Osborne being “socially liberal and economically pragmatic”, which he thought “closely matches” readers’ viewpoints. During his six years as chancellor, most observers would not have perceived Osborne’s social liberalism and economic pragmatism.

In fairness, he was considered to be a friend of the arts, at least according to Patience Wheatcroft in a BBC Radio 4 interview.

But note the difference. When Wheatcroft was ennobled in 2010, and took the Conservative whip, she was editor of the Wall Street Journal’s Europe edition. Her bosses immediately decided she must step down to avoid any suggestion of political bias.

Seven years on, in a changed political and media landscape, there is a renewed confidence about rightwing newspaper owners. Having spent years denying that old canard about forming “the Tory press”, they are no longer attempting to hide the truth.


Roy Greenslade

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