A Pippa Crerar and Luke Harding special appears on the front page of The Guardian this morning: “Queen was asked to block Evgeny Lebedev’s peerage”. The top sleuths write: “Government officials asked whether the late Queen would block Evgeny Lebedev’s peerage because of concerns that he could be a national security risk due to his father’s links to the Putin regime, a documentary has claimed.” Which sounds very dramatic – until you read on to the third paragraph: “The Palace is understood to have refused [to block it]”. Doh!
This lame hand out appears to be the most that can be dredged out of a new Channel 4 documentary on Evgeny Lebedev which is slated for broadcast tomorrow. It is not as if the controversy was unreported at the time. The Guardian is the only paper giving Channel 4’s film any press. Guido hears there is nothing more in the film than has already been endlessly recycled. Apparently, the investigation is amusingly forced to conclude that there is no suggestion of anything untoward on the part of Lebedev himself…
So, what could account for The Guardian’s appetite for targeting him? Evgeny is a British citizen and regime critic who has a Russian name – but his country of birth shouldn’t bother the progressives at The Guardian. And surely a liberal newspaper would celebrate his vital investment in underwriting (expensive) British journalism – especially that of left-leaning outlets like The Independent. Which, by coincidence, is the Guardian’s fiercest competitor…
Overnight, news broke that Geordie Greig, the previously-ousted editor of the Daily Mail, is now the Editor in Chief of The Independent. Greig is a known quantity for Independent owner Lord Lebedev, for whom he has been acting as an adviser and previously worked at the Evening Standard. The move comes as the paper looks to expand its “global reach”. Speaking on his appointment, Greig said:
“I am delighted to become Editor in Chief of The Independent, the only title that has successfully made the transition from national newspaper to global news platform, whilst maintaining editorial integrity and remaining profitable throughout. The Independent is the UK’s leading quality digital title… I look forward to leading the brilliant editorial team that is successfully making journalism a force for good.”
On 12th May, Angela Rayner accused the government of a “cover-up” after they released redacted documents relating to Evgeny Lebedev’s peerage. The government had been forced to release the documents after Labour used an opposition day in the Commons to issue a humble address, a key tool of the opposition discovered during the Brexit disputes. Responding to the redaction, Rayner told the press:
“This looks like a cover-up and smells like a cover-up because it is a cover-up. If the Prime Minister is claiming he was not involved in forcing through the award of a peerage to an individual of concern to our intelligence services, he should come clean and publish the documents as parliament instructed.
“The government has not provided a single piece of information in these heavily redacted documents, failing to comply with a direct instruction from parliament. The government is once again seeking to hide in the shadows from the sunlight of scrutiny. We will take steps to rectify this contempt of parliament.
Now, however, it seems Labour we’re not really that interested after all. A letter published from Speaker Lindsay Hoyle to Michael Ellis this afternoon says the minister will be aware that members have “expressed concerns” about the redactions, however notes “no such complaints have been made”.
He does warn the Cabinet Office that this doesn’t mean the “Government has a right to supply only the information it pleases”. Turns out Rayner wasn’t that bothered to apply the “sunlight of scrunity” after all…
Evgeny Lebedev has just confirmed earlier reports that Sir Keir actually congratulated him for his Lords appointment back in 2020, despite spending the last few weeks complaining about the decision and insisting it “raises serious questions”. Captain Hindsight at it again…
According to Lebedev, Starmer privately texted in August 2020:
“Congratulations on your elevation to the House of Lords. All best wishes, Keir.”
Just a few weeks ago on Sky News, once it looked like the story might damage the government, Starmer performed a vintage U-turn and said:
“…The media today are saying there were further reservations by the security and intelligence services which were known before this appointment was made and we know that concerns were raised apparently with the Prime Minister […] the Prime Minister has got serious questions to answer: What did he know? And did he override security advice?”
Labour sources are already counter-briefing The Times’ Patrick Maguire with “it wasn’t Keir the security services briefed with warnings about Lebedev and it wasn’t Keir who nominated him for a peerage.” Still, at least Starmer’s not the only left red-faced by this: Sadiq Khan and Starmer adviser Peter Mandelson were also pictured beaming away as they left Lebedev’s Christmas party back in 2017. Now Labour are acting as if it’s a scandal anyone even spoke to him. Looks like Lebedev kept the receipts…
After five years at the helm Sarah Sands is off to the Today programme, so the Evening Standard is looking for a new editor. Who will join the likes of Paul Dacre, Max Hastings and Geordie Grieg on the illustrious list of former Standard editors? As ever Media Guido gives you your preliminary runners and riders…
Rachel Johnson – A party circuit pal of Evgeny, who she calls “a wise old beard (or two) on young shoulders”. Has been a Standard columnist. Might the sister of the former Mayor edit London’s dominant paper?
Oly Duff – Under Duff’s editorship the i paper enjoyed some success and largely subsidised the Independent, before Lebedev sold it to Johnston Press last year. One of Evgeny’s cabal of bearded young male proteges.
Amol Rajan – You wait ages for an editor’s job and then two come along at once. Has landed a string of scoopettes since becoming the BBC’s new media editor. Bearded obviously. If only he’d held out just a little longer…
Matthew d’Ancona – The former Spectator editor is already a Standard columnist and also pushes the neo-Cameroon modernising agenda in his Guardian column. Has requisite beard.
Toby Young: Now working at the New Schools Network, could he be tempted to put his career as an educationalist on hold? Able to grow beard at short notice if necessary.
Ed Cumming – Hirsute Rasputin to Evgeny’s Tsar Nicholas, Cumming is highly-rated and was commissioning editor at the Observer for two years.
Dylan Jones – The GQ editor is a name in the frame, however his 18 years at the helm of GQ suggest he is a lifer at the magazine. If he starts growing a beard he could be in contention.
Stig Abell – The former Sun man could be a good shout. Though surely he loves TLS too much to leave?
Eleanor Mills – Editorial director at the Sunday Times and editor of the Sunday Times magazine, certainly has the experience.
Ian Walker – If Lebedev goes for an internal hire then his deputy editor is the most qualified.
Jack Lefley – Currently the well-respected Standard news editor, the man who under the radar does the most work on the paper.
Evgeny could choose someone completely unexpected. He is not a conventional proprietor…
This week’s Estates Gazette makes interesting reading in light of today’s news about the Indy. A report in the property trade journal claims the Lebedevs are planning to move the Evening Standard from their current offices sharing with the Indy and the Mail in Kensington. Apparently they are looking for a new 40,000 square foot space in Zone 1. Will there be room for a new online-only Indy there too?