The extraordinary news that George Osborne is to become the new editor of the Evening Standard has sent the twittering classes into an uproar.
The news was not so much entirely unexpected as unlikely in the extreme; Osborne remains a serving member of Parliament, has numerous well-paid additional roles in advising financial corporations and has pledged his adherence to the Northern Powerhouse so many times that one wonders if even he is sick of it.
Therefore it seems the most bizarre of moves, especially as he has pledged to continue his career as an MP. Apparently he will be able to edit London’s major paper in the morning and conduct Parliamentary business in the afternoon, which will at least give ammunition to those who have always claimed that being an MP is a part-time job at best.
There will be those who wonder what on earth he is up to. In a brief statement, he said:
"I am proud to be a Conservative MP, but as editor and leader of a team of dedicated and independent journalists, our only interest will be to give a voice to all Londoners. We will be fearless as a paper fighting for their interests."
So far, so generic. However, the second part of his statement was more revealing, as he went on to reveal:
"We will judge what the government, London’s politicians and the political parties do against this simple test: is it good for our readers and good for London? If it is, we’ll support them. If it isn’t, we’ll be quick to say so."
Leaving aside the utter incongruity of a former member of the Government editing a major daily paper that will presumably chasten it on a regular basis, there seems a clear motive for this most extraordinary of actions: revenge.
By any standard, the events of 13 July 2016 were a humiliation for Osborne. After serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer since 2010, and essentially acting as joint Prime Minister along with David Cameron, he had adequate cause to believe that he was entitled to a measure of dignity when it came to the discussion of whatever role he could expect under Theresa May’s new administration.
This did not prove to be the case. After brusquely telling him to "get to know the party", May fired him, and promptly ensured that the briefings that were leaked to the press made it clear that he was offered no chance to resign. Of all the fates of the Cameroons, it was the most crushing and undignified.
Many would have followed Cameron’s example and left politics altogether, especially when the remuneration that could be obtained on the international speaker’s circuit was enough to keep him in the fine fabrics that his father’s firm, Osborne and Little, specialises in designing.
Yet what is now quite clear is that he had another agenda all along, and, less than a year after his departure from frontbench politics, he has become a potentially lethal force to be reckoned with for his one-time Cabinet colleague.
He has kept a relatively low profile since his return to the backbenches. What few speeches he has made in the Commons continue his reputation for liberal Conservatism: a warning that the economic dangers of Brexit that he so shrilly warned against have not gone away here, an angry attack on the failures of western intervention in Syria there.
Yet anyone who has kept an eye on the career of the man nicknamed "the submarine" might have expected more from him, given that he is probably the savviest and ablest political operator since Peter Mandelson.
And now, at last, we have our answer. It would be foolish to second-guess all of Osborne’s intentions. It is likely that he will continue many of Evgeny Lebedev’s innovations and schemes for the paper; the bearded proprietor will no doubt still be found in numerous front-page photographs in earnest conversation with celebrities.
Yet, at a time when the government seems particularly prone to embarassment, it has increasingly become the media that is offering a more consistent and coherent opposition, rather than the pitiful failure of presentation and intellectual vacuity that currently has besmirched the name of "Labour".
The temptation must have been strong for Osborne to snipe at his nemesis from the backbenches, in much the same way that his erstwhile protégé Nicky Morgan has continued to. Yet, like Mandelson, he has clearly had a much longer game in mind, and the editorship of the Evening Standard represents an extraordinary public platform from which to criticise the current government. (One assumes that, as long as Corbyn remains party leader, no public attacks on Labour are necessary.) It is unprecedented, but as we are increasingly aware these days, the unprecedented has become the new commonplace.
Osborne’s remarkable portfolio of careers now dwarfs even his former rival Boris Johnson’s, whose boast that he was "pro- having cake and pro- eating it" seems modest indeed in comparison.
And yet, a student of politics such as he must surely be aware of the famous adage of Machiavelli’s that "men should either be treated generously, or destroyed, because they take revenge for slight injuries – heavy ones they cannot." The eternal opposition between politics and the press has just become much more interesting.