Labour MP buys troubled 'Statesman'

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CHRIS BLACKHURST

A multi-millionaire Labour MP has finally emerged as the saviour of the troubled left-wing weekly the New Statesman, after weeks of negotiations.

Geoffrey Robinson, MP for Coventry North-West, who once ran Jaguar cars and has made a fortune from hi-tech engineering, is buying the ailing weekly from the administrator. Mr Robinson has bought the 83-year old title founded by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and will cover the debts, running at pounds 6,000 per week. He will fund a redesign and promotion in an effort to lift circulation out of the present doldrums of 20,000.

He refused to discuss exactly how much he expects to invest but has initially paid pounds 250,000 to pay-off debts.

He expects to announce a new editor, drawn from a five-strong shortlist, next week. Speculation has centred on Ian Hargreaves, the former editor of the Independent, the newspaper columnist Francis Wheen and Will Hutton, the author and Guardian economics editor.

Mr Robinson is close to the Labour hierarchy and made it plain yesterday that, where appropriate, he wants the magazine to engage in "constructive" criticism of the party and its policies. This contrasts with the often hostile tone of the outgoing editor, Steve Platt.

Mr Robinson said he wanted the magazine to become more like the Spectator, the successful right-wing weekly, which produces an eclectic mix of politics, arts and book reviews, and waspish columns.

The purchase marks the end to an uncertain chapter in a troubled period for the publication. A boardroom row erupted last summer, amid allegations the magazine was being taken over by a pro-Blair faction. That resulted in Philip Jeffrey, its millionaire owner, dismissing some of the directors.

Mr Jeffrey then clashed with the most powerful shareholders and he called in the administrators before agreeing to sell to Mr Robinson.

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