Unless you’ve been in a cave, you will have heard the good news: George Osborne has found work at long last! The former Chancellor will soon be the editor of The Evening Standard, the only free London newspaper, distributed at tube stations across the city. Plenty of people have raised the issue of a conflict of interests, losing track of who has gone through the spinning door. The full picture is far more absurd than one politician’s decision.
The Evening Standard is owned by Alexander Lebedev and watched over by his son Evgeny. Former editor Sarah Sands is going to take up a new role at BBC Radio’s Today Programme – the bane of many progressive listeners! Clearly, Sands is no longer content with just presiding over a conservative newspaper. But wait there is still more to the spinning door of the mainstream media. The BBC media editor Amol Rajan, who oversaw the coverage of this story, was the editor of The Independent (another Lebedev publication).
So we have the former Chancellor joining the Lebedev payroll, with former Lebedev employees moving to prominent roles at the BBC. It’s almost as if it were not farcical enough for the former Chancellor to take a top job in the media. The line between the independent media and the political establishment appears to be increasingly blurred. In fact, it’s almost as if the presumed independence of the media is up for debate, the wall between the media and the establishment turns out to be nonexistent. The two turn out to be on the same side of one coin.
Should anyone be surprised by this? No, the mainstream media is the establishment. What we might call the commentariat has always existed. It has different sections of capital behind it, and different political factions within it. The vast bulk of the mainstream media is broadly right-wing and generally supports the Conservative Party, the left-liberal media is in the minority: you have The Guardian and its sister The Observer, along with The Daily Mirror (the only pro-Labour daily newspaper).
If people think the Russian factor makes this story unique, think again. London is awash with Russian money, including lots of dirty money. So the factor itself is not unique, though the details do matter. Fortunes amassed in the Yeltsin era of market-based chaos would be consolidated under the stewardship of Vladimir Putin. Former KGB man Alexander Lebedev emerged a wealthy man and soon began building a media portfolio and working with Gorbachev and others on political projects.
It’s not the first time Osborne has fraternised with Russian oligarchs. He was caught on a yacht in Corfu with Oleg Deripaska in 2008. It was alleged Osborne was looking to secure a £50,000 donation from the aluminium magnate. Also present was Peter Mandelson. It’s a great image, New Labour and the Conservative Party coming together aboard the yacht of a Russian oligarch. This isn’t to suggest anything improper was going on. Not at all, though it is interesting what goes on perfectly within the confines of law.