The former chancellor George Osborne has been announced as the new editor of the London Evening Standard newspaper.
The owner of the paper, Evgeny Lebedev, confirmed on Twitter on Friday morning that the Tory MP for Tatton, who served as chancellor for six years before standing down in the wake of the EU referendum last year, would replace outgoing editor Sarah Sands.
The Standard itself confirmed the news shortly after Lebedev's tweets, adding that Osborne will begin his role in early May while continuing to serve as an MP. He must seek the advice of the House of Commons' advisory committee on business appointments before taking up the role, as is required of former ministers.
An email to staff confirmed that Osborne would edit the paper four days a week on average, but added that the job would allow him time to vote in parliament, contribute to debates, and manage constituency business in the afternoon, once the paper has gone to press.
In a lengthy statement, Osborne told the paper: "This is such an exciting and challenging job and I’m thrilled to take it on. The Evening Standard is a great paper, testimony to the hard work of Sarah Sands and the impressive team, and to the investment of its owners. I look forward to working with, learning from and leading this team of dedicated professionals.
"Growing up as a Londoner, I’ve always known that the Evening Standard is an institution that plays a huge part in the life of the city and its people. Now it is a great honour that I can play a part as leader of the editorial team making the Evening Standard the definitive voice of the world’s most exciting city."
The news shocked London's political and media worlds on Friday, including staff at the Standard itself. According to newsroom sources, journalists at the paper found out just minutes before the news was announced. "No one can believe it. I feel like I've been shot," one said.
A senior Standard insider said there were some positives to the move, but called the appointment "a kick in teeth" to the paper's staff.
"On a pragmatic level, I see the appeal of recruiting a high-profile figure with strong public connections to the role," they told BuzzFeed News. "His Remain status is also a comfort at a stressful time for London.
"But I am personally devastated. It is a kick in the teeth for all hard-working journalists who dream of editing a newspaper one day after years of toil, and does nothing for our negative reputation as a Tory mouthpiece."
Speaking to London Live, the digital TV station also owned by Lebedev, Osborne stressed that under his leadership the paper would be willing to criticise the government if it took actions it considered to be bad for Londoners.
The appointment prompted furious responses from Labour politicians.
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn branded the appointment "a joke". He told the Islington Tribune: "This is taking multitasking to a whole new level. Surely a newspaper like the Evening Standard deserves a full time editor. Never mind one who is so obviously biased against the voting intentions of the vast majority of Londoners."
Corbyn later said in a statement:
Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson, said in a statement: "I wish George Osborne all the best as he embarks on his new career in journalism.
"I know from conversations with journalists that the long hours and early starts that editing a newspaper like the Evening Standard requires are incompatible with the demands placed on hard-working constituency MPs.
"With that I mind I assume the former Chancellor will give up his seat in Parliament in due course and trigger a by-election, possibly to coincide with the local and mayoral elections being held in May."
One Labour MP said Osborne was facing a conflict of interest, while a Labour London Assembly member said the move showed contempt for both Londoners and Osborne's Tatton constituents.
Osborne visited Northcliffe House, the Standard's headquarters in Kensington, west London, just after midday on Friday and addressed staff.
According to one source who was present, Osborne was applauded in the newsroom before speaking for two minutes. He said: "I need to learn from you lot, I've run the country but I've never run a newspaper."
The former chancellor has previously flirted with a career in journalism. Before beginning his rise in Westminster, he applied unsuccessfully for a graduate position at The Times. He also interviewed for a job at The Economist.
Osborne told BuzzFeed News in 2015, in a section of an interview that was not published at the time: "There is part of me that thinks of the other life I might have had. I always interested in what was going on – whether you report on it or whether you participate in it."
Osborne and Lebedev appear to have had regular contact in recent years. When Osborne was chancellor, he had at least 10 private meetings with the Evening Standard and Independent proprietor, according to Osborne's public ministerial disclosures.
They included "lunch and evening drinks" before Christmas 2015 and a "general discussion" just before last summer's referendum on EU membership.
"Evgeny loves Osborne," said a source close to the Russian-born businessman. Before the 2015 general election, Osborne persuaded the proprietor to back the Conservatives, the source said.
Lebedev wanted The Independent to endorse the Conservatives in an editorial but the newspaper's editor at the time – Amol Rajan – pushed back. The Independent ended up supporting an extension of the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition instead.
Even that was deeply unpopular with some of The Independent's staff and readers, who considered it a betrayal of the newspaper's traditions to back the Conservatives in any form.
Rajan is now at the BBC as media editor, where he was today the first to report the news that his former boss has appointed Osborne to run the Standard.
Patti Goddard, president of the Tatton Conservative Association, welcomed Osborne's appointment and told The Guardian: "It’s exciting that George has got this new big role in our public life. We in the Tatton Conservatives fully support him. He’s a hard-working constituency MP."
This is a developing story.
Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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Alex Spence is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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