Dear Matthew: keep your cool

As Matthew d'Ancona prepares to take the helm at 'The Spectator', we asked key figures what they'll be looking for from his editorship
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The Independent Online


If you say New Statesman, you are talking about something influential beyond that. But The Spectator belongs to the Conservatives, right-wing academics and right-wing journalists - that is, not using right-wing in a pejorative sense. I remember when I read The Spectator avidly every week. It was essential. Now I read it if it happens to be there. In terms of the Conservative Party, this is a very exciting time of debate. We are about to take part in an election which we stand a good chance of winning. We need open debate about subjects like, for example, the NHS. It's the sort of debate you can't always have within the party because when you raise it, people think you are immediately talking about privatisation. Within the Speccie, you can open up these debates and canvas a wide range of opinions. This is where the magazine is useful. This too, could be a very exciting time for The Spectator.

'Stay in tune with the essence'

MICHAEL GOVE Conservative MP

There will be differences of emphasis, taste and approach from Boris Johnson to Matthew d'Ancona. Matt has a great sense of humour and a light touch. Because of his job on the Telegraph that hasn't always been obvious. Boris is slightly more of an anarchist, while Matt is more sympathetic to the challenges of people running institutions. He's the prefect keeping order while Boris is the boy throwing the chewing gum. You can exaggerate the influence of The Spectator. A lot of Conservative politicians read it and it's a good platform for writing, but one wouldn't give it the elevated status of being the Conservatives' magazine any more than the Carlton being the club. The Spectator's duty is to be true to its essence, at times iconoclastic, and always a good read. It shouldn't be a political annexe of the Conservative Party. The Spectator should play to its strengths. Matt is more than intelligent enough to know that.

'More politics would lose readers'

SIR PEREGRINE WORSTHORNE Former editor, 'The Sunday Telegraph'

Matthew d'Ancona is a clever man, but it's difficult to be as lively as Boris. D'Ancona is a good thing but Andrew Neil, I'm not so sure about. He sued me for libel about 12 years ago, but I shouldn't let my prejudices get in the way. The Spectator isn't read any longer as a serious political magazine. It's read as something lighter, for entertainment, very lively and well written, generally speaking. However, it is not read by the political heavyweights with a view to public opinion. D'Ancona is more a political heavyweight than Boris, so he could steer it to politics. But it would lose readers. D'Ancona is an homme serieux. If he is true to his own instincts he will lose readers, but also the support of Andrew Neil and the Barclay brothers. It's an awkward position to be in. If he's not a populist, readers will find it less fun and that will threaten the readership.

'Remember, dissent is strength'


The Spectator is as influential now as it has ever been. Boris really had his head above the parapet in so many guises. I've been a subscriber for 15 years. It's something you gravitate to when you get to around 30. I like it because of all these maverick ideas, maverick people, some of whom are complete fruit loops. If you can wade through the fruit loops and right-wing nutcases, it's essential reading. It had become even more idiosyncratic under Boris. Some magazines work if there are very homogeneous. If you read The Economist, for example, it is a great magazine but all the pieces feel like they could have been written by the same person. You get a very broad view of the world. You couldn't get that from The Spectator, but that's also a good thing. I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative, but the magazine is a good reflection of the party and a good counterweight. It carries pieces people by custodians of the brand and lots of dissenting voices. That's its strength.

'Don't be obsessed by strategy'

DOMINIC LAWSON Former editor, 'The Spectator'

You don't know how a new editor is going to do. To some extent it's a learning curve. Matthew d'Ancona is more experienced than I was when I took over. A lot of journalism is about opportunism. It's fatal to become obsessed with strategy. There's a lot of nonsense about The Spectator becoming lighter. There's always been a high degree of humour in it. For some years it has a load of cartoons, not unconnected with the demise of Punch. The cartoons are, by their nature, not serious. A lot of people buy The Spectator for them. There are also the humorous writers, like Jeremy Clarke. In my day it was Jeffrey Bernard. It's a bitter humour. That's what the New Statesman lacks. I would be distinctly alarmed if the cartoons were removed and 3,000 words on the state of the nation instated. But that won't happen.

'... and don't drop your trousers'

QUENTIN LETTS The 'Daily Mail'

The Spectator should be in the Conservative Party but not run by it. It should also give a fair wind to David Cameron who seems to be doing a modernisation job on his party that maybe The Spectator could learn a little bit from. It's a widely read magazine but under a Labour government it's never going to influence policy as much as it would under a Conservative one. Yet it still has more clout over Labour than the New Statesman because the writing is so much better, and more astringent. It puts things cleverly so that people will read it and think "bloody good point". Matthew d'Ancona is a very civilised bloke and he will impart some his genial charm to the magazine. He will also be better at keeping the trousers on. We've probably had enough trouser-dropping for now, particularly since the Conservative Party wants to be taken seriously. Matt is a well-read fellow and he will certainly polish the magazine's reputation for intellectualism. I think he will do the job brilliantly.