Homelessness, food banks, child poverty, knife crime … How can the Standard report on the problems facing London when they are rooted in decisions taken by its new editor?
Recently, MPs getting to work early have had to step around sleeping bodies in the underground tunnel that leads from Westminster tube station to the House of Commons staff entrance, forcing them to reflect on London’s rocketing homelessness problem. At street level outside the station, there are often several people sleeping by the stall where copies of the Evening Standard are handed out. The former chancellor George Osborne can scarcely have failed to notice the phenomenon as he made his way in to work.
Is it an issue that will make front page news on the Standard any time soon? Given that homelessness charities believe responsibility for the growing numbers of rough sleepers in the capital (where rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010) lies squarely with spending decisions made by the Treasury, it may prove an uncomfortable cause for the newspaper to champion once Osborne starts his new job as editor on Tuesday.
There are a whole range of issues that are set to cause awkwardness for reporters. How will the paper cover the fallout from cuts to local authority budgets in London, when those cuts were overseen by the new editor? Inner London councils have already lost about 40% in central government funding since 2010, and the thinktank London Councils predicts that core funding from central government will have fallen by 63% in real terms, equivalent to £3.9bn, over the decade to 2019-20. These cuts have led to closures of youth services, children centres, libraries and day centres – all traditional campaigning themes for local papers, but perhaps less likely to be splashed on the Standard’s pages now.
No one doubts that the ex-chancellor will bring energy, political clout and a healthy contacts book to the paper. Many former opponents are inclined to view his appointment positively, hopeful that he will transform the paper into an anti-Brexit platform. Osborne is clever and fun and will make the Standard an exciting place to work. But there is real concern that his editorship may impose an obstinately rosy filter on some of the grittier problems that London faces.