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Jeremy Corbyn calls for George Osborne to face the voters

The former Chancellor will be the future Evening Standard editor, and Labour is not happy. 

George Osborne, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the MP for Tatton, and BlackRock adviser, has found yet another job - editor of the London Evening Standard.

After news of his appointment broke earlier today, many of his fellow MPs, especially within Labour, have started calling for a by-election in his constituency. Osborne has declared that he will not step down as an MP.

Jeremy Corbyn led the Labour outcry, saying Osborne’s appointment was a “joke” and calling for an immediate by-election in Tatton. "The appointment makes a mockery of the independence of the media," the leader of the opposition said. "It takes multitasking to a new level and is an insult to the electors he is supposed to serve."

Just like the leader of the opposition’s Islington North seat, Osborne’s is set to be abolished in the next election, under the new parliamentary constituency boundaries rule.

Clive Lewis MP tweeted that Osborne’s appointment is a conflict of interest and that he will write to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, as well as the Commons’ Speaker John Bercow, and Theresa May.

Toby Perkins, the Labour MP for Chesterfield, put the question more bluntly when he wondered whether George Osborne "gives a shit":

Green MP Caroline Lucas is calling for Osborne to step down as an MP, too. “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”, she wrote in a statement. “By taking this job George Osborne has shown contempt for his constituents.”

She has put a parliamentary question into whether “arrangements will be put in place by 10 Downing Street to ensure that the Editor of the London Evening Standard is not able to misuse his position as a member of the Privy Council to generate news stories based on confidential government briefings or advance notice of any prime ministerial decision to commit HM Armed Forces in enemy action.”

But some Labour MPs decided to poke fun at Osborne’s (lack of) journalism experience. Apart from a few freelance pieces, he has never held a job as a journalist, and was rejected from The Times graduate scheme and from an interview at The Economist.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who used to bear the brunt of Osborne's attacks before he was sacked by Theresa May, said he was ready to give him a chance, and even hoped to pitch to the new editor:

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband, in a majestic peak of his newly found Twitter sassiness, had some personal appointment news, too.

To be fair, Miliband did actually work in the media, as a researcher for Channel 4’s A Week In Politics, before entering actual politics – which makes him a lot more qualified than Osborne for an editor position. Just like any journalist with previous work experience out there.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.