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17 March 2017

How can George Osborne edit a newspaper and advise an investment company at the same time?

George Osborne's new job isn't a great look for the Evening Standard. It's not clear how it will work for him, either.

By Stephen Bush

“How will the Standard Diary work, then?” That was the query of one MP shortly after the news that George Osborne, notionally the Conservative MP for Tatton in the spare moments between his job as a financial adviser at BlackRock, his fellowship at the McCain Institute in Virginia and his evening engagements on the speaking circuit will be the new editor of the Evening Standard.

The diary column covers the embarrassments of politicians, journalists and celebrities, the first two of which Osborne will still wish to secure favour with if his dreams, which, I’m told, still remain active, of political renaissance and revenge upon his enemies.

But the problems continue throughout the paper: how can someone who advisers a global investment firm edit the Standard’s city pages? What about a vote when the interests of his constituents align with the government but those of the Standard’s editorial line diverge? (For instance: any bill on transport infrastructure.) “On every page,” one politician observes, “there is a problem.”

In addition, he will have a vote on press regulation and any number of issues which may be of benefit to the Standard and its advertisers.

Those are some of the ways that the appointment is deeply troubling from an accountability perspective – and why Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, has called for him to be stripped of his membership of the Privy Council.

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But the move is also mystifying in terms of Osborne’s continuing political ambitions. Close allies of the ex-Chancellor in the middle of the week were gleefully observing the chaos of the Budget and its wasting effect on the fortunes of Theresa May, who sacked him, and Philip Hammond, who replaced him. Osborne still hopes to return to the frontline of British politics. How on earth is he going to keep his hand in with Conservative MPs and build alliances with them while editing a newspaper?

Something will have to give.