I’M thinking of applying for the Royal Infirmary’s current vacancy for a consultant gynaecologist. I’m not actually a doctor, of course, but I’m not going to let that put me off.
I’ve got a number of other attributes that I think would make me ideal for the job, you see. For example, I enjoy working with women and I’m a good communicator. Also, I’ve had a few gynaecological issues myself over the years, so I’ll be able to empathise with my patients. My lack of medical knowledge and experience might be an issue at first, but I’m sure I can learn everything I need to know on the job.
The ludicrous nature of this scenario is surely no more gobsmacking than the news that George Osborne has been appointed editor of the Evening Standard. The former chancellor, who is still MP for Tatton, will apparently take care of his editorial duties in the mornings, before shimmying down to the House of Commons after lunch to play his part in the democratic process. So, crusading journalist who holds the Government to account by day, loyal Tory MP by night…that’s Super George!
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Like many journalists, when I heard about this development I thought it must be an early April fool. After all, not only has Mr Osborne never been a journalist, but he was actively turned away from the profession twice (following applications to The Times and the Economist), suggesting he doesn’t have either the skills or the temperament for this job.
Indeed, such fundamental unsuitability very likely explains why he appears to believe he can simply rock up at a level most people spend upwards of 25 years of shedding copious amounts of blood, sweat and tears to achieve. Being an editor requires not only political, intellectual and - particularly these days - managerial nouse, but also the sort of skills, experience and judgement that can only be gained on the job. In fact, the role has much in common with a senior doctor.
With this in mind I find the arrogance - or indeed stupidity – of Mr Osborne utterly mindblowing. But perhaps neither of these things should be unexpected from the de facto leader of the public school, Oxford-educated cabal of chums that accidentally took the UK out of the European Union. He will make few friends among the press pack.
But this appointment has more important ramifications than merely the appointment of a completely unqualified person to a senior position in newspapers, of course. Consider how the narrative of fake news has taken off in recent months, alongside the idea that there is a “mainstream media” conspiring to withhold “the truth” from people. We need look no further than how President Trump portrays criticism of his policy or behaviour, or how pro-Brexit supporters depicted immigration in the lead up to last year’s referendum.
With this in mind, surely the last thing the so-called mainstream media should be doing to challenge these dangerous myths is employing serving politicians as editors. In Mr Osborne’s case the words “conflict of interest” become so laughable that the fake news conspiracy brigade begin to look like they might be on to something, especially since both politicians and journalists are held in such low regard by the public.
Meanwhile, the fact that Mr Osborne does not appear to have broken any rules in terms of his position as an MP is utterly grim. Lest we forget this editorship is his fourth part-time job outside Parliament, with the other three already raking him in around £1.5m a year on top of his MPs’ salary.
The blatant cynicism of this whole affair stinks to high heaven. But it also sets a dangerous precedent at a particularly precarious time for journalism and democracy. Greedy, arrogant Mr Osborne should hang his head in shame.