Getty
Show Hide image

Why George Osborne should quit politics before editing The Evening Standard

The former Chancellor owes it to his new journalistic team.

There is no more precious freedom than the freedom of the press. It is the freedom that underpins all our freedoms, the one guarantee of freedom of speech, the ultimate protection against abuse of power, the clearest statement that nobody is above the law, nobody is beyond question, nobody can monopolise public attention. The campaigns, the scoops, even the ridicule holds power to account.”

Who could disagree with this powerful defence of Britain’s media and the vital role it plays in our democracy? The new editor of the Evening Standard, George Osborne, certainly wouldn’t, because he delivered those words in a speech in April last year as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

So how could anyone, least of all Mr Osborne, fail to see the serious conflict of interest in the appointment of one of the biggest beasts of the Westminster jungle to edit London's longest-running daily newspaper whilst moonlighting as a Conservative MP?

I'm not sure how many of George Osborne's constituents in Cheshire read the London Evening Standard, but they will surely feel aggrieved that their local MP has announced that he will "speak for London and Londoners". It’s a strange move for a politician who has sought to rebrand himself as the champion of the Northern Powerhouse.

This appointment is bad news for the reputation of politicians, journalists and the relationship between the two. Trust in politics and politicians is rock bottom. People understandably question how Mr Osborne will find time to represent his Northern constituents well alongside his busy life as a London newspaper editor, an adviser to an American investment firm, an after dinner speaker on the books of the Washington Speaker's Bureau and a fellow of an American think tank. Those of us who put in 70 hours a week as constituency MPs have a right to feel angry that the reputation of MPs collectively, still battered from the experience of the expenses scandal, will be further damaged by the perception that we don’t give our full time and time and attention to representing the interests of our constituents.

Journalists have a right to be angry, too. For all the cynicism about the media, it is a noble profession. Most enter it with a strong conviction that sunlight is the best disinfectant. They champion the public interest by taking on vested interests. In an era of "fake news" the role of trained and professional journalists has never been more important. What sort of message does it send about the revolving door between Westminster and the media, and that a former Chancellor, who many believe still harbours big politicial ambitions, can walk out of the Treasury and into the news room without any real qualification to do so?

A man cannot have two masters. Is George Osborne a champion of the people of London, or a champion of the people of Cheshire? London’s Labour Mayor, MPs and council leaders can reasonably ask if they will continue to receive fair coverage from a Conservative MP in the top job. But equally, Conservatives will wonder whether the Standard’s editorial line will hold the government to account or simply attempt to destabilise a Prime Minister, who many believe the editor of the Evening Standard would still like to replace.

The Evening Standard is a great newspaper staffed by great people. They deserve better than to have their reporting subjected to daily questioning about bias because of the position of its editor.

So at the risk of upsetting the new editor of my city’s daily paper, George Osborne must decide if he really wants the job. If he does, he must put his political ambitions behind him and resign as a Member of Parliament.


 

 

 

 

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496