On George Osborne’s first day in the job as editor of the Evening Standard, he played down fears about the consequences of his many conflicts of interests on the paper’s integrity by promising to act “without fear or favour.”

The profile on him published by Esquire today suggests he failed to live up to that promise when Londoners needed a fearless and investigative paper most – in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

The magazine reports:

“In the aftermath, many papers, including establishment stalwart The Times, ran powerful investigative series on the missteps and cost-cutting that led to the fire.

“Osborne’s Standard covered the disaster in a different way: calling on people to show “unity in grief” and raising funds for victims.

“Osborne was shaken by the tragedy. He could see the fire burning from his house, and later in the day, he declared himself “still numb with what I saw this morning”. But he seemed anxious about politicising Grenfell.”

Spending on housing in London had been cut by 50% between 2009/2010 and 2012/13 as Osborne slashed the budgets of local authorities.

And Esquire reveals:

“One Standard staffer told me that Osborne, who was on a flight in the hours following the fire, sent a note to the op-ed department telling them not to go “OTT” in their Grenfell analyses.

“There was speculation that Osborne’s editorial line on Grenfell was born of a concern that the budget cuts he oversaw as chancellor might be linked to the deaths of mostly poor Londoners. (This was, in fact, precisely Labour’s line of attack.)”

The Standard’s editorial from the day of the fire states: “Plainly, we know nothing about the cause of the fire and it is too early to talk about responsibility and culpability.”

For balance, it should be pointed out that Osborne strongly denies the allegation. He said:

“I was sceptical of the instant experts in other papers who rushed to blame the whole thing on Kensington and Chelsea Council saving costs. It’s the kind of sloppy journalism I’m trying to get my paper, at least, away from.

“The failure was a massive failure of fire standards over many, many years, and that is a scandal we’ve talked about.”

You can’t ask the tough questions when you have so many to answer yourself…

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