'Tribune' magazine saved from closure at eleventh hour

The 74-year-old weekly that has played a turbulent role in Labour's history will become a co-operative

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The Independent Online

Staff at Tribune magazine, saved from closure at the eleventh hour, will meet tomorrow to discuss the future and approve a deal to take it over.

The left-wing publication faces numerous problems due to low circulation figures and a lack of advertising income, but, not for the first time, it has managed to find a lifeline.

Management, staff and the National Union of Journalists have agreed that the weekly journal should become a co-operative, owned by readers and staff.

Tribune's web editor wrote anonymously: "The publisher, Kevin McGrath, has offered to take on historical debts and release the title 'debt free'. Mr McGrath will do everything possible to help the success of the transfer to a co-operative."

Mr McGrath is a senior adviser of the international real estate manager F&C REIT Asset Management and member of its executive committee. The property investor stood for the Labour Party as a candidate in the European Parliament elections in 2009.

He took complete ownership of the magazine in March 2009 and pledged to retain its left-of-centre stance and increase its readership.

But last week he warned of possible closure as the situation had not improved despite the efforts of its editor, Chris McLaughlin, a former political journalist on the Sunday Mirror and Mail on Sunday.

The democratic socialist journal has played a turbulent part in Labour Party history. Its finances have always been equally unstable.

In 1988, it launched an emergency appeal with the plaintive headline "Don't let this be the last issue of the Tribune".

It switched from a newspaper format to a magazine in 2001 but continued to struggle financially.

A consortium of trade unions offered investment and editorial independence in 2004, but complications resurfaced in September 2008 when the trade union Unite suggested that it should take over the magazine and was rebuffed.

It was founded in 1937 by left-wing Labour MPs including Aneurin Bevan, who became editor in 1941. George Orwell was its literary editor from 1943 until his death in 1950, and Michael Foot was its editor in its heyday, between 1948 and 1952, when it had a circulation of 40,000.

The newspaper broke with Bevan in 1957, when it supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and he refused to do so. During the 1960s, under the editorship of Dick Clements, it was the heart of the mainstream left-wing faction of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

When the left split over Tony Benn's candidacy for Labour's deputy leadership in 1981, Tribune ended up with the Bennites under the editorship of Chris Mullin, between 1982 and 1984.

In recent years, under Nigel Williamson and Mr McLaughlin, it has been on the left, not aligned with any faction, but opposed to many of Tony Blair's policies, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, its circulation has dwindled to somewhere below 4,000.