George Osborne: Journalism is Much More Fun Than Politics... But I Wouldn't Rule Out a Comeback
As Andrew Marr sits across from Evening Standard Editor George Osborne in the Corinthia Hotel's ballroom, his first question is why the former Chancellor wanted the job.
Like many of the 150 spectators, Marr recalls his original prediction that Osborne would "make a hash of it", and admits he's genuinely surprised he hasn't.
Faced with the choice of "trading off" from his time at Number 11 or moving out of politics into something different, Osborne seems confident he made the right choice. Being editor at the Standard lets him both "remain part of the political argument", while enjoying his new career in journalism, which he asserts is "a lot more fun that politics".
Marr then moves on to questions regarding the editor's plan for running the Standard. Osborne describes his editorial line as one which represents London's "anti-hard Brexit middle", a position he sees as the continuation of the paper's history, not a move in another direction.
He says the paper will prioritise housing, continue it's green mission to clean up London's air, and accepts the views of the paper will not always be identical to his own. Osborne also emphasised his political allegiances will not affect the non partisan nature of the publication.
He recalls that one of the first calls he made after getting the job was to Sadiq Khan, assuring him of his subsequent impartiality towards the Labour Mayor. Osborne vows he has an "open mind", and the paper will support the "better" future candidates running for public office in London, regardless of party. "Without fear or favour, we will stick it to everyone," he promises.
Theresa May is a 'Dead Woman Walking'
Osborne's recent vicious attacks on Theresa May seem to prove he is a man willing to criticise his former colleagues, although Marr has little success getting a straight answer on whether he personally penned the editorial that scorned the Prime Minister. "It's a team effort," is all he'll say.
He recounts how he told his new colleagues that he knew how to run a country, not a newspaper. He complimented the senior staff, and said that although he thinks his greatest influence on the newspaper will depend on who he hires or fires, he is yet to make any major changes.
Describing his strategy to ensure the paper entertains as much as it informs, Osborne admits he hadn't "appreciated" how high the pressure is in such a short period of time.
He uses Monday's edition as an example - shortly before publication news broke of the Duchess of Cambridge's new baby. He wanted a creative headline. They came up with: "It's a royal hat-trick." "Not the best front page in history," he admits.
Brexit was 'Inevitable'
One of the few political subjects the editor seemed willing to talk about was Brexit. On his own stance, he opens up slightly. Firstly, he says, despite his failure to stop the referendum, the "direction of travel" for Brexit was inevitable, fuelled by a build-up of pressure in body of politics.
Secondly, he admits that while his vast experience of dealing with Europe taught his dealing with Brussels can be frustrating, it is better to be "in the room, shaping decisions" and gives his resounding support to immigration.
He also does concede the remain camp got it wrong: "If it was a good campaign, it wouldn't have failed."
Finally, although he thinks Brexit is a threat and not an opportunity, he does not support "fanciful" calls for a second referendum, but instead feels confident Britain will end up remaining in the customs union and very close to the European Union. He also reveals the highest pick-up day in the Standard's history was the day after the Brexit vote.
Questions - Any Answers?
The audience then put their questions to Osborne. After accusations of deception from a Brexiteer and of incompetent campaign from some Remainers, he tackled two big questions. What is the role of a printed publication such as the Standard in an increasingly digital age, and how was the Standard taking steps to represent the non-elites of London following Grenfell?
On the former, both Osborne and Marr agree the printed Standard, especially now it's free, has a long life ahead of it. Osborne seems confident the publication will stay on the right side of the digital revolution, and pointed to growing investments the paper is making in the area. He adds that it would be interesting to see if the Standard online picks up more of a national following from those outside London without access to the print edition.
Addressing the latter, the editor agrees more must be done, but defends the Standard, highlighting several journalists who cover "neglected boroughs", adding sometimes it takes "a tragedy for change". He also alluded to a special, yet to be announced, which will cover a "forgotten group" in London.
Prime Minister Osborne?
Regarding his own future Osborne rules little out. Despite his instinct that a return to politics would be a mistake, he leaves it open.
When asked if he has ambitions beyond the Standard, he merely says he's just started his new job. However, he seems to make little effort to deny anything, and has high praise for The Times at another point.
It seems, as ever, a case of watching this space for his next move.