Magazine article The Spectator

It's Only a Little Magazine, but It Seems to Concern Some Big Politicians

Magazine article The Spectator

It's Only a Little Magazine, but It Seems to Concern Some Big Politicians

Article excerpt

How important is the New Statesman? Not very, you might think. The Spectator's traditional rival, which sold 80,000 copies in its Sixties heyday, now has a circulation of just over.25,000. Everyone agrees that the centre-left magazine is much better than it was two years ago, when it was acquired by Geoffrey Robinson, then a backbench Labour MP, now Paymaster-General, but it still leaves a pretty light imprint on national life. Its weekly offering of innumerable, rather earnest political articles appeals to those who like to demolish the latest Demos pamphlet before breakfast.

It may look a bit marginal but the question of the successor to Ian Hargreaves, who resigned as editor last week, is seizing several minds in government. Put crudely, the Brownites -- followers of our lugubrious Chancellor of the Exchequer - want an editor of their persuasion. The Blairites would naturally prefer one of their own. The magazine may appear a pretty small bone to squabble over, but that is not how it is seen on the inside.

When Mr Robinson bought the bankrupt New Statesman for L125,000 in March 1996, paying off debts of some L250,000, he spoke about investing enough to double its sales in two years. He has certainly invested a great deal, but Mr Hargreaves has not doubled the circulation, which was a tall order. The figures are a bit hazy since they were not at that time officially audited, but it seems that the magazine was then selling about 17,500 copies a week. Sales rose to an average of 25,600 in the second half of last year, since when they appear to have run out of steam. A healthy increase of nearly 50 per cent, but not double.

Mr Hargreaves absolutely denies that he has been given the heave-ho as a result of any disappointments Mr Robinson may harbour so far as circulation is concerned. He also denies that he is leaving his 120,000 a year job because he felt unable to write about Mr Robinson's recent tribulations with full candour. The PaymasterGeneral, it will be recalled, was revealed as the beneficiary of a lucrative offshore trust. Apart from one rather fence-sitting editorial, the New Statesman steered clear of the controversy.

I am inclined to believe Mr Hargreaves. His line is that he has had enough of the ceaseless grind of journalism. He has a oneyear-old child, and another on the way. So he is becoming Professor of Journalism at Cardiff University and will present the Radio Four programme Analysis. His survival as chairman of the three-person New Statesman board rather cuts the ground from under the feet of those who say that he was eased out. But, for all that, it is possible to imagine that Mr Robinson is not completely broken-hearted to see Mr Hargreaves go.

Enter Charlie Whelan, Gordon Brown's ebullient press secretary. Mr Whelan believes that the New Statesman is one of the world's more boring magazines. He is a man of action rather than a philosopher, and seems to find the weekly's austere tone more than flesh and blood can bear. He has suggested - it is not clear whether this is a joke - that a worthy successor to Mr Hargreaves would be Peter Oborne, political columnist on the Express. Mr Oborne often graces these pages and I would be the last to take issue with this judgment. …

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