'Fatherland' author Harris bids for 'New Statesman'

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THE MILLIONAIRE author Robert Harris is leading a consortium of Blairite loyalists which is attempting to buy the New Statesman magazine, writes Julian Kossoff.

Mr Harris confirmed yesterday that he is keen to buy the left-wing political weekly, which is still required reading in Labour Party circles. The author, who has made millions from his highly successful novels, Fatherland, Enigma, and Archangel, is a close friend of both Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Peter Mandelson.

The New Statesman is currently funded by Geoffrey Robinson MP, the Paymaster General. Mr Harris's bid is being encouraged by Downing Street as a means of bringing the influential magazine firmly into the Blair camp, say insiders. It is understood that Jonathan Powell, the PM's chief of staff, is involved in the negotiations. Such moves are likely to be interpreted as further evidence of a "control freak" mentality inside No 10.

Mr Harris, who told the Independent on Sunday last night that "things are only at an exploratory stage", is putting together his bid with Nick Butler, another close friend and adviser to Mr Mandelson, and a "player" in the New Labour establishment.

The New Statesman was rescued from bankruptcy by Mr Robinson in 1996. Before becoming mired in controversy over his business affairs, Mr Robinson was seen as a key part of Chancellor Gordon Brown's plan to build up an alternative power base. Certainly some of the more factional Blairites see the New Statesman - which sells nearly 26,000 against the Spectator's 57,000 - as a Brown-supporting publication.

A senior figure at the magazine said that while there was a chance that the title would be sold, much depended upon Mr Robinson's political future. But Peter Wilby, the magazine's editor since last May and a former editor of the IoS, said: "I have been assured by the trustees that the title is not for sale and that they have no intention of selling the magazine."