The behaviour of the Evening Standard in the run-up to the 2008 London Mayoral election was not merely partisan: the paper was effectively cheerleading for current (and occasional) Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. Then it ceased to be part of the empire of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, and the word went out that it was turning over a new leaf.
This much vaunted transformation, it seems, did not turn out as supporters of Bozza’s opponents might have wished: the last few weeks have seen a series of suitably slanted pieces characterising the Johnson campaign positively, and that of Ken Livingstone equally negatively. Many have come from our old friend Peter Dominiczak, “City Hall Correspondent” and ex Yorkshire Post.
And now the paper has Bozza’s preferred choice, Sarah Sands, installed as editor to replace Geordie Greig, who has decamped to the Mail On Sunday. Will things change? Not a bit of it, if a piece in today’s paper is anything to go by. Under the by-line of Pippa Crerar, “City Hall Editor”, readers are told “‘Give London back its cash: Boris Johnson demands return on cash that capital makes for Britain’”.
What Bozza is pitching for is, ultimately, more and bigger piles of money for Himself Personally Now. This will ostensibly mean better public services, but given the Johnson penchant for spraying money up the wall on vanity bikes, vanity buses and a vanity cable car, any reporter with their bullshit detector in working order should at the first mention of this be hearing the siren sounding.
Moreover, this should be compared and contrasted with the ridicule heaped on Livingstone for suggesting a greater role for the Mayor less than a fortnight ago: Dominiczak dismissed it as “Ken Livingstone’s Independent Republic Of London”, and pundit Melanie McDonagh likened the idea to an Ealing comedy. They went quiet when Bozza suggested something very similar on education.
And the numbers in today’s piece are selectively presented. Firstly, readers get “The equivalent of £2,500 for every Londoner goes to other parts of the UK rather than being spent on schools, hospitals, transport and fighting crime in the capital”, but then this is clarified with “Around £1 in every £5 earned in the capital subsidises the rest of the UK” which is not the same thing.
Many of those paying those taxes don’t live in Greater London, so the comparison is pointless. And, once again, the hacks should be picking this up. They would have done if the pitch had come from any of Bozza’s opponents. Instead, there is praise for the idea, “London devo-max is hard to resist” from Tony Travers of the LSE, who really ought to know better.
So the answer to the question is no. The Standard ain’t even handed.