Magazine article The Spectator

Now Is the Time for Hugo Young to Sack the Man Who Has Compromised His Paper's Integrity

Magazine article The Spectator

Now Is the Time for Hugo Young to Sack the Man Who Has Compromised His Paper's Integrity

Article excerpt

On the whole we should be glad that a number of very respectable businessmen are pouring millions of pounds into the pockets of New Labour. Far better the likes of Sir Maurice Hatter and John Ritblat than some of the rather dodgy characters who supported Harold Wilson. So long as the Blairites are dependent on big business, and therefore aware of its needs, we can probably all sleep comfortably in our beds in the knowledge that New Labour really has become a bourgeois party.

All the same, one donor should be raising our hackles. According to the document leaked to the Sunday Telegraph, Lord Gavron, chairman of the Guardian Media Group, which publishes the Guardian, Observer, Manchester Evening News and a string of provincial papers, has just given 500,000 to New Labour. Of course, he used to be plain Mr Bob Gavron. In June - by coincidence the same month that he signed that cheque to Tony Blair and Co - he was raised to the peerage as a working Labour peer. Any connection between the two events is, of course, purely accidental.

Is it seemly for a senior newspaper executive to bankroll a political party? I should say definitely not. Lord Gavron's political allegiances are no secret. The man who built up St Ives, Britain's largest independent printing company, was once a Thatcherite but jumped on board the New Labour bandwagon before the 1997 general election. In September 1996 it emerged that Mr Gavron had generously contributed 500,000 to New Labour. In January 1997 he became chairman of the Guardian Media Group. In other words, the publishing company knew where its new boss was coming from. That was bad enough, but if Mr Gavron had decided to stop giving money to New Labour, we might not have had too much to complain about.

The best way to test the irregularity of all this is to imagine the whole thing the other way around. Pretend that Conrad Black, chairman of the Telegraph Group, which publishes The Spectator, had been raised to the peerage after giving a million pounds to the Tories during the last government. There would have been an incredible hullabaloo, and the Guardian would have published tub-thumping leaders about the corruption of the press. You may say that the two situations are not strictly analogous, for Lord Gavron has no financial interest in the Guardian Media Group, which is wholly owned by the non-profit-making Scott Trust. But the principle is surely the same. Pace Lord Northcliffe and Lord Beaverbrook, it is preferable for someone running a newspaper company not to be seen to be in bed with the government.

The chief victim is the Guardian, which prides itself on not being an uncritical supporter of New Labour and is often on the rough end of Alastair Campbell's tongue. If I were a Guardian journalist I should be annoyed by this compromising of my newspaper. One of its executives says to me that Lord Gavron has no editorial power and so his bankrolling of New Labour doesn't matter. But he may well have some influence, and even if he doesn't he is a sort of figurehead for the paper. The same executive asserts that there is nothing in the Scott Trust's 1936 deeds which prohibits members of the trust giving money to a political party. Even if this is true, it is hardly the point. What Lord Gavron has done offends the spirit of the newspaper. This is what its most famous editor, C.P. Scott, wrote in 1921: `Perhaps the chief virtue of a newspaper is its independence. …

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