George Osborne: New BBC Chairman? Sure! Now appoint Dick Dastardly to run the traffic cops

While it could be another distraction tactic, I actually think they might do this...

Budget 2013: George Osborne's 20 most sinister looks - picture special -  Mirror Online
George Osborne, pictured here not looking creepy.

George Osborne has more jobs than Mr Benn, the bowler-hatted clothes-changing fantasist from 1970s television who frequented a dubious fancy dress shop that was clearly a front for money laundering, but that won’t stop him getting another. Since he sloped out of No.11 Downing Street, at the insistence of Theresa May, who he fantasised about chopping up and sticking in his freezer — no really, he did — Osborne has grabbed jobs like he’s popping them in a sticker album. Now it looks like he might add BBC Chairman to his collection.

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The architect of austerity and chuckling Muttley to David Cameron’s dithering Dick Dastardly managed to traffic a teenage interest in journalism (and failed early attempts at becoming a hack) into gaining the editorship of the Evening Standard.

The magic ingredient was his absurdly close relationship with the paper’s proprietor, Evgeny Lebedev, a man whose interests included dying his beard so it looks like its a collection of iron filings pasted onto his face, having himself pictured doing ‘good works’ in the pages of the Evening Standard, and being kind to the Conservative Party. The latter hobby has now paid off as he has become Lord Lebedev of Shystyshire.

Osborne became Evening Standard editor in 2017. He stepped down in June 2020. And what did he leave behind after 3 years as the boss — a large part of that period shared with gigs boosting the Northern Powerhouse (?!!!) and a £650,000 a year role offering strategic advice to Blackrock in a conflict of interest that should have prevented him even getting near an editor’s job? Well, not much beyond the further cheapening of the Evening Standard’s name and obscene closeness with advertisers. Notably, he pushed a “cash for column inches” scheme that boosted firms including Google and Uber.

This year, Harold Evans, who spearheaded the campaign to get justice for the Thalidomide victims and their families died. He was what a newspaper editor should be — brave, questioning, and willing to tell power where to go.

George Osborne is none of those things. He is an arse-kisser, a credit-stealer, and a courtier to power and corruption. He oozes the uneasy learned charm of an estate agent, but with none of the work ethic.

The £3 million deal with Uber, Google and others, first exposed by openDemocracy in 2018, was initially called London 2020. It was later rebranded as Future London with the newspaper giving the two tech companies and Babylon Health, among others, access to what was described as “money-can’t-buy” coverage in the news pages and “favourable comment coverage.” Starbucks wanted nothing to do with the plan, calling it “PR death” and comparing it to “something you might do in Saudi Arabia.”

That last comment was bang on as Saudi money powers much of Lebedev’s media empire, including his online-only Independent. The name of the latter becomes more grimly ironic with every passing month.

Having tried when he left university to become a journalist — rejected by The Times’ trainee scheme and The Economist after a disastrous interview — it seems that Osborne kept the light of his ambitions alive even as he climbed from Conservative spad to Conservative candidate to youngest Conservative MP in the house to absurdly young and absurdly destructive Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Emily Sheffield: I may want my son off Snapchat but when you're on crutches  and bored your phone is a lifesaver | London Evening Standard
Emily Sheffield proving that if you’re rich you can dress like the ageing owner of a failing antiques shop.

Osborne’s replacement as Standard editor is Emily Sheffield… David Cameron’s sister-in-law. His departure from the role and symbolic bumping upstairs to become Editor-in-Chief, for entirely cosmetic reasons, was inevitable as he pushed the Standard to a monthly loss of £1 million, admittedly not helped by the pandemic.

While he occupied the Evening Standard editor’s chair, Osborne blurred the lines between commerce and journalism so much that reading the paper started to feel like a sadistic eye test conducted by an optician obsessed with Ayn Rand. In 2018, a ludicrously positive interview with Uber’s chief executive didn’t note that it was part of the £3 million advertising deal, while Google benefitted from positive editorials, even as its efforts across the world rat fuck journalism in every possible way.

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But Osborne’s time at the Standard has reputation washed him enough and added the necessary patina of professional journalism experience to make him becoming Chairman of the BBC a possibility. While his name being put in the frame could be more dead catting from the Boris Johnson administration, a group of people who have killed so many metaphorical cats they’re banging on Shroedinger’s door, I wouldn’t be so sure. Osborne has treated the Boris Johnson administration relatively kindly at the Standard and Lebedev is extremely close friends with the Prime Minister.

The Daily Telegraph is the source of the latest rumours and was, of course, the Prime Minister’s prime source of income, paying him £275,000 a year for a weekly column of half-digested Latin, racist dog-whistling, and outright bullshit. The Daily Telegraph remains a solid conduit for government fuckery so I would not be too quick to dismiss the notion of Osborne at the BBC.

David Clementi, the BBC current chairman, is due to step down when his term in office ends in February, after overseeing the coronation of former Conservative Party council candidate Tim Davie as the new Director-General. Sources in government and the civil service say that formal recruitment processes for the Chair’s post haven’t begun yet, but I wonder if any real formal recruitment process will. I suspect if Osborne wants the job then it will be his.

With Osborne in the Chair’s… uh… chair and Davie as Director-General, the BBC will be completely secured by the Conservatives. It will allow them to begin a more thorough defenestration of voices they don’t like, and a hollowing out of all that makes the BBC worthwhile and interesting. Expect to see parts of the BBC sold off to commercial broadcasters and the News output to continue to drift rightwards with spurious claims that this is simply imposing balance.

Will George Osborne follow his Mr Benn tendencies and help himself to another hat? I won’t be surprised, but I will be horrified.