George Osborne has said he does not want the Evening Standard to be a “nasty paper” and admits he “didn’t know” if he could do the job of editor as he joined the newsroom.
The former Chancellor of the Exchequer replaced Sarah Sands as editor of the free London daily in March.
The appointment was met with criticism at the time, not least because of his lack of journalism experience but also because he was still a serving MP.
He told the FT: “When I turned up at the beginning of May I didn’t really know if this was going to work for me and work for the newspaper.
“I confidently asserted I could do the job but I didn’t know. And I didn’t know if I was going to enjoy it or feel if I had made a wrong move.
“Within 24 hours I was thinking I had definitely done the right thing. I was not ready aged 46, to just sort of retire or live off the fact I was the ex-chancellor or spend the rest of my life giving speeches about what I did when I was 40 years old.”
In his first edition as editor, Osborne took aim at his former political adversary Theresa May, reporting on how relations between Brussels and Downing Street had “plunged downhill” after the EU’s chief negotiator had “openly mocked” May.
The front page is framed on the wall in his office.
Press Gazette analysis of Osborne’s first month as editor suggested that the former Tory chancellor had given his own party a harder time than Labour and that he had so far delivered on his pledge to report on the general election campaign “without fear or favour”.
Osborne then put the full weight of the Standard behind the Tories ahead of the snap general election earlier this month, with a front page editorial endorsing a vote for Theresa May.
But despite this, he continued to be critical of the prime minister in leader columns, which he said were “a team effort, but let’s say I am taking a close interest”.
While he has undoubtedly settled into his new role, the career politician also did not rule out a return to politics. “It was odd covering it [the election] from a newsroom,” he told the FT. “Having run two general elections, I was conscious of this; ‘do I want to be there on the podium?’
“I reflected; ‘no I don’t’. So I don’t miss it, I don’t yearn for it, I’m not looking for a return. I don’t rule it out but that’s more because I think it’s silly to say you will never do something in the future.”
Since Osborne took charge at the Standard, its daily distribution has increased by nearly 3 per cent to more than 900,000 copies, according to ABC figures for May.
Just over one million copies of the Standard were picked up on the morning after the election results, the paper has claimed, marking a record for a general election.
Its powerful front page picture of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, by staff photographer Jeremy Selwyn, was widely used in coverage by other media outlet – including those as far afield as Australia.
Osborne told the FT he had a “pretty stable budget” at the paper.
He said on his approach to editing: “I’m trying to edit this paper as the editor of the Evening Standard not as the ex-chancellor of the exchequer,” adding: “I don’t want the Evening Standard to be a nasty paper.
“It doesn’t have to be vindictive or personal or unpleasant about individuals. You are not going to get pictures of celebrities with cellulite on the beach.”
Picture: Reuters/Hannah McKay