Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tired and Tainted; Why the New Statesman and the Spectator Are No Longer Required Reading

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tired and Tainted; Why the New Statesman and the Spectator Are No Longer Required Reading

Article excerpt

Byline: RICHARD INGRAMS

I CAN just about remember a time in the Sixties when I thought it compulsory to buy the New Statesman and The Spectator on a Thursday evening to read on the train going home. Today I would not even feel the urge to look at the cover lines at the station bookstall.

I first started to read The Spectator when I was in National Service in Malaya in 1957. In those days it was owned by the Leftwing Tory MP lan Gilmour and the editor was Brian Inglis, a famous journalist who had recruited a team of brilliant young radicals, notably Bernard Levin, the first journalist in my time to write about Parliament in a thoroughly disrespectful way. Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene were regular contributors.

The New Statesman hit its peak a little later when the circulation rose to 93,000 in 1965 under the editorship of Paul Johnson, at that stage a fiery radical famous for the enthusiasm with which he greeted the students' revolt in Paris.

Various reasons, political or economic, are given for the decline of magazines. But the more mundane one is that the wrong people are appointed editors. In the case of the New Statesman, the rot set in in 1978 when Bruce Page, a doctrinaire Leftwinger from the Sunday Times Insight team, took over from Anthony Howard. Page imposed a regime of Marxist orthodoxy on a paper which had always operated very successfully on the "pantomime horse" principle, the front half being political, the rear given over to books and the arts.

Nicknamed the Staggers by its devotees, the magazine proceeded to live up to its name as it staggered on through the Eighties and Nineties with a series of undistinguished editors, eventually being bought in 1996 by New Labour's (at that stage) favourite businessman, Geoffrey Robinson MP.

One reason for the continuing success of Private Eye is that it is a genuinely independent magazine with no allegiance to any large parent company or interfering proprietor.

But since it was sold to Conrad Black in 1988, The Spectator is not in the same fortunate position. The magazine has become a satellite of the Daily Telegraph, dependent on its big brother for marketing and promotion. …

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