Blair's Comeback, the Guardian's Woes and What I Found in Corsica

By Wilby, Peter | New Statesman (1996), July 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Blair's Comeback, the Guardian's Woes and What I Found in Corsica


Wilby, Peter, New Statesman (1996)


The Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, is patting himself on the back. Of the 56,000 households affected by the [pounds sterling]26,000 cap on benefits,1,700 have already moved back into work, after receiving threatening letters, though the cap doesn't take effect until 2013. According to my maths, this is just 3 per cent, which is roughly the proportion of the unemployed who get jobs each month even during a recession. Another 5,000--nearly 9 per cent--are "seeking out the targeted support available to move into employment", IDS says. Good for them. What about the other 88 per cent? Will the minister also provide figures for suicides, mental illness, marital break-ups and malnourished children?

Rusbridger of sighs

To anybody who follows the fortunes of the Guardian, the Observer and their digital operations, news that their losses increased for the fourth year in a row and are now above [pounds sterling]40m will come as no surprise. As I explained in the NS last month, the company has so ordered its affairs that the Scott Trust, which kept the Guardian alive for 75 years by transferring profits from other assets, can no longer cover all the losses. Like other newspapers, the Guardian is suffering steep falls in print revenues but, so far, its expanding digital operations don't make enough to replace them. Meanwhile, its sugar daddy--the trust being its equivalent of the Independent's Evgeny Lebedev or the Titres's Rupert Murdoch--is short of sugar.

By now, most papers would already be slashing staff costs. The Guardian, however, critical of bosses who reach for P45s at the first sign of trouble, sticks for now to the unfashionable policy of politely requesting voluntary redundancies, to the fury of its many enemies who would love to see its King's Cross building swimming in blood. If like me, you have spent nearly all your working life on precariously positioned left-liberal publications--though when I was a young reporter on the Observer, the paper enjoyed brief prosperity after it accidentally made a killing during a London property boom--you have seen it all before.

People ask if the Guardian will survive. Answer: I don't know. I gave the same answer to the same question in each of the past five decades.

Here's ... Tony!

What is Tony Blair up to? His biographer Anthony Seldon, asked by the Guardian if we should rule out a Blair return to Downing Street, replies "absolutely not".

How could it happen?

Here is my scenario. The coalition breaks up next year and, simultaneously, Moody's and other agencies downgrade Britain's credit rating, as they have recently threatened. To reassure the markets, Blair forms a "government of national unity", supported by the Cameroons (who frequently profess admiration for him), Labour's Blairite rump and the Lib Dems. …

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