In a week of political surprises by far the greatest is the news that the Evening Standard’s new editor is George Osborne. It’s not unheard of for MPs to combine politics and journalism (recall Boris Johnson’s editorship of the Spectator), and Osborne has unfulfilled ambition having been rejected by the Times and the Economist as a budding hack. But one wonders how the former Chancellor will combine the Standard’s punishing hours with bookwriting, a Kissinger fellowship, his Northern Powerhouse think-tank, private speaking, Blackrock and, last not but least, representing the good people of Tatton (Osborne has said he will remain an MP).
Among the questions being asked is what Osborne’s appointment means for Sadiq Khan. Having relentlessly campaigned against his election, the Standard has since lavished the Mayor of London with praise. As a Khan ally once told me: “They didn’t treat us fairly – and they knew that. Because now they’re so far up our backsides it’s unbelievable. Sadiq’s now ‘number one Londoner’. Six weeks previously they were saying that he was basically a terrorist.”
Can the Labour mayor expect to receive less favourable treatment from a Conservative MP? Well, despite their political differences, Khan and Osborne have long enjoyed friendly relations. The former Chancellor sponsored Khan for the London marathon and congratulated him following his Labour mayoral nomination, so it’s unsurprising that Khan has publicly welcomed Osborne’s appointment, tweeting: “Congratulations to @George_Osborne – the new editor of the @EveningStandard. Covering the world’s greatest city. #LondonIsOpen.”
Unlike senior Conservatives such as David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, Osborne did not join the Conservative assault against Khan during the London mayoral election (when he was denounced as a friend of Islamist extremists). “Osborne was the one who never did it,” a Khan aide told me. “We didn’t forget that, so we had a good relationship with him afterwards.”
In the short period between Khan’s election and Osborne’s sacking, the pair had several meetings to discuss infrastructure investment and further London devolution (both Osborne passions). Indeed, some are speculating whether Osborne hopes to use the Standard editorship as a springboard to City Hall. But the former Chancellor, who is fond of citing LBJ’s maxim that the first rule of politics is to “know how to count”, must know that he would struggle to overturn Khan’s huge lead in 2020. Though the mayor is widely spoken of as a potential Labour leader, aides say that he will stand for a second term.