Neil takes over at 'Spectator' and gives Boris his backing

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The Independent Online

Andrew Neil, the new boss of The Spectator, has urged Boris Johnson to stay out of the media limelight and said his frontbench position was incompatible with editing a weekly political magazine.

Andrew Neil, the new boss of The Spectator, has urged Boris Johnson to stay out of the media limelight and said his frontbench position was incompatible with editing a weekly political magazine.

Mr Neil, the former editor of The Sunday Times and publisher of The Scotsman and The Business, was yesterday named as chief executive of The Spectator. While he expressed "full confidence" in Mr Johnson, the sacked Tory spokesman for arts, he said: "I don't think they are compatible in the long term, because the position The Spectator must take on any issue must be the editor's position and not the one of the front bench to which he belongs."

The new chief executive yesterday pledged not to interfere in the editorial content of the magazine. But he told Radio 4's Today programme that the right of centre political weekly could now "look forward to a period of quiet". "I think the more time the editor spends in Doughty Street editing the magazine and the less we see of him in the newspapers then the better for the editor and the better for the magazine," he said.

Mr Johnson, who greeted Mr Neil's appointment as "good news" for The Spectator, agreed with his new boss that combining the work of a frontbench spokesman with editing the magazine had not been a success. "I think one thing is for certain. I have tested to destruction the notion that you can edit a national magazine and serve on the front bench. There's no doubt those two things are incompatible," he said.

While Mr Johnson is not the first editor of The Spectator to double up as a Tory MP - Nigel Lawson, Ian Gilmour and Iain Macleod also performed the dual role - they were not on the front benches at the time, said Mr Neil. Mr Johnson, who has rarely been out of the headlines in recent weeks - first because of a controversial editorial about Liverpool and then over an alleged affair - agreed with his new boss that he should henceforth avoid the media limelight. His new agreement could leave him with a difficult choice between editing the magazine and making a comeback in Tory politics.

The Barclay brothers, who bought The Spectator as part of the Telegraph Group earlier this year, have transferred management of the title to Press Holdings, the company overseen by Mr Neil. "I think his appearances on television have made him a popular national figure... But there is good publicity and bad publicity and there are some things which we have seen in the papers recently which haven't done the magazine any great favours and I am sure we will now see less of that," said Mr Neil.

The new chief executive, who has also given his backing to The Spectator's publisher Kimberley Quinn, insisted the decision to transfer the magazine to Press Holdings was made in August, long before the media furore surrounding Mr Johnson broke out. "I will do what chief executives do, which is bring together the editorial and commercial sides of the company, push forward the strategic development of the magazine to the greater glory of all concerned,'' he said.

Mr Johnson spent most of his journalistic career before joining the political magazine on the Daily Telegraph, where he rose to become Europe correspondent, assistant editor and a columnist. Mr Neil, who also presents political programmes on BBC, spent a decade at The Economist, where he rose to become UK editor.

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