The Conservatives have pretty good form in getting themselves into roles for which they are astonishingly unqualified (Boris as Mayor of London; Boris as Foreign Secretary) but George Osborne's improbable new appointment as editor of the Evening Standard might take the biscuit.
I've enjoyed the tweets from people mock-announcing ludicrous new jobs today, and I would love to spend a week in the Milliverse where Ed actually edits Heat. I even spent a bit of time today trying to convince my co-leader Caroline Lucas that we should announce ourselves as the new presenters of Channel 4's Bake Off. But beyond the jokes about how hilariously ill equipped Osborne is for this job, there are two far more serious issues here.
Here is the first. It's no secret that the Evening Standard has traditionally been quite right wing. But the idea of a sitting Tory MP becoming the editor turns a just-about tolerable bias into something deeply worrying. The Evening Standard has a circulation of about 900,000 – and is read by over 1,600,000 people daily. That's over five times the circulation in print of, say, The Guardian. It's handed out for free across the capital, and its influence shouldn't be underestimated. This newspaper is now completely compromised. Edited by a sitting Conservative MP, it has the potential to become an instrument of blatant propaganda.
Even if Osborne doesn't explicitly induce his staff to look favourably upon the government and dimly upon their political opponents, it would be very brave journalist who would pitch a story about something like the Tory electoral fraud this week, once Osborne is in charge. Journalists aren't to blame, but there is already a concerning trend of self-censorship across the press in the UK thanks to corporate influence and vested interests, but this will take the problem to an unprecedented level. And the results will be read by over a million and a half voters every day.
These people are going to be utterly abandoned, in George's valiant quest to show the world what an extraordinarily progressive living wage looks like
The other problem – or the other 65,200 problems – are his constituents in Tatton. These people are going to be utterly abandoned, in George's valiant quest to show the world what an extraordinarily progressive living wage looks like. I'm not an MP myself, but my party's co-leader Caroline Lucas is, and I can see that there's absolutely no way you can meaningfully represent your constituents, and fulfil your role as an MP, while editing a daily paper. And working for BlackRock. And carrying out regular speaking commitments.
You don't need first-hand experience as an MP to grasp that one person simply cannot do all of these things effectively. It's an absolute fantasy to pretend that this is possible. And you can bet that it's not the prestigious editorial role which is going to slip – it's his commitment to people in Tatton which will go first. Keep an eye on the letters pages in the Standard in the months to come. It may be where frustrated constituents end up pitching a last ditch effort to reach their MP with concerns about social care, schools, benefits and whatever other pesky responsibilities he has to these people.
There's absolutely no way you can meaningfully represent your constituents, and fulfil your role as an MP
None of this is to mention the myriad practical complexities which this introduces. Will he still be able to comply with a three-line whip, for instance? What will stop him from leaking information he receives as a member of the Privy Council? These are just a couple of the questions which Caroline Lucas has tabled to ask in Parliament. There will be many more which haven't even occurred to any of us yet, and will only become apparent as he wades his way through this maze of conflicts and contradictions. It's mind boggling that this has been allowed to happen.
The fact that George Osborne is totally unqualified for this job is probably the least concerning part of this story. (He actually has good experience at getting away with this sort of thing, in fact, after six years as Chancellor with no qualifications in economics). The real concerns here are much more serious, issuing new threats to the freedom of the press, the integrity of democracy, and respect for the responsibilities of being a Member of Parliament. He can't do all of these jobs. If he wants to be editor of the Evening Standard, he'll have to step down as an MP.
Jonathan Bartley is co-leader of the Green Party