The owner of the London Evening Standard has defended his appointment of George Osborne as editor, claiming his paper will provide a more effective opposition than Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.
Evgeny Lebedev, the Russian billionaire, stunned Westminster and Fleet Street yesterday by appointing the former chancellor editor at London’s evening paper. Mr Osborne has faced questions over conflicts of interest after saying he would stay on as MP for Tatton, in Cheshire, and over the paper’s coverage of Blackrock, the US fund management firm where he earns £650,000 as an adviser.
“Sad old commentariat. Wait and see his paper before judging,” tweeted Mr Lebedev, 36. “Tories saying he will criticise the government now. Labour say he is a Tory stooge. So, which is it?!”
“Frankly @George_Osborne will provide more effective opposition to the government than the current Labour Party.”
Mr Corbyn called the appointment a “joke” yesterday and called for an immediate by-election in Tatton. “The appointment makes a mockery of the independence of the media,” he said. “It takes multitasking to a new level and is an insult to the electors he is supposed to serve.”
Mr Lebedev’s remarks may be seen as a reference to Mr Osborne’s support for Remain in the EU referendum. Sixty per cent of voters in the capital backed Remain, compared with 48 per cent nationally, and Mr Corbyn angered many pro-EU Labour voters by ordering MPs to support the passing of Article 50 legislation through the Commons.
The editorship will give Mr Osborne a greater political platform than he has had since Theresa May fired him from the cabinet in July, even if he quits as an MP. No 10 suspects he and David Cameron may have been behind Tory rebellions over the budget and school funding.
Mr Lebedev said that Mr Osborne would “stand up for the interests of London and Londoners” — a claim which critics said would conflict with his constituency duties and chairmanship of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, a think tank that lobbies for investment and new powers for the North.