The model of a new statesman?

The fortunes of the `Spectator' and its left-wing opponent have reflected the political climate of the day. Will Ian Hargreaves capitalise on the rise of new Labour to revive the `New Statesman'? By Marianne Macdonald

These are difficult days for the Spectator. The right-wing weekly has, in recent years, found the odds stacked in its favour, both journalistically and politically; in Dominic Lawson it had an editor with an ability to get scoops that caused real ripples, and it had a clutch of talented journalists willing to write articles for love - and profile - rather than money (the Spectator pays peanuts).

As with the Conservatives, however, the tide is turning, and the Spectator, under the less inspiring editorship of Frank Johnson, finds itself at the fag-end of a discredited political ideology. As well as a change of editor, the weekly is stocked with fewer good writers than a year ago, having lost Auberon Waugh, Boris Johnson, and Lawson himself, now editing the Sunday Telegraph. Small wonder that it is losing its self-confidence and, given the level of support Tony Blair enjoys, is in increasing danger of appearing unpleasantly fanatical in tone.

The Spectator's readers, following the loss of Waugh, Johnson et al, have been treated to the softer "charms" of Petronella Wyatt, the bitter musings of Stephen Glover - the co-founder of the Independent whose column is alive with the sound of grinding axes - and Alan Clark, the ex-minister whose first diary under Johnson expounded on the previous editor's "loathsome sneering features, pastily glistening".

Worse news looms on the horizon. The New Statesman, the Spectator's traditional rival on the left, has jerked awake to appoint Ian Hargreaves, 44, a former editor of this paper, to its helm. Hargreaves, with his integrity and intelligence, is an inspired choice for the New Statesman, and one which will give the Spectator serious competition. While no financial plans or details are available (except for Hargreaves's rumoured salary of pounds 100,000), the salient editorial characteristics of this new New Statesman will be "at worst well written and at best sparklingly written", Hargreaves says. "It needs to have witty and satirical writing as well as analytical. It needs to be intellectual, it needs to be capable of interesting and original thought."

The first clear sign that the Spectator is taking the Statesman seriously came from Glover's characteristically sniping comments even before Hargreaves took the post. "Mr Hargreaves is clever and virtuous and competent," wrote Glover. "He is also politically conventional, cautious and seemingly without much sense of humour. These are not qualities guaranteed to revive an ailing magazine." Glover, not known as a daredevil, laugh-a-minute journalist himself, is clearly eager to toe the party line.

But just as it is impossible to distinguish these magazines from their politics, it is impossible not to draw a wider comparison between the success of right- and left-wing journalism in the past 20 years.

The theory has been that left-wing journalism has done poorly because it had no success to draw on in government; that left-wingers were humourless, riddled with factions, lacking the populist touch. Indeed it would be hard, looking at the Labour Party of previous years, to deny this.

In just the same way, of course, the New Statesman has seemed to revel in its inaccessible and earnest offerings - the disquieting frequency of features on referendums or trade unions, for example, its timid covers and student magazine design and the internecine battles between its board members.

This depressing combination whittled away its circulation to less than 20,000 - compared to the Spectator's 50,000-plus - from its peak of 96,000 in 1966 when the New Statesman was required reading for left-of-centre intellectuals. But now the gyre has concluded its cycle. Tony Blair has created a new Labour with a more acceptable ideology; and in Hargreaves the 83-year-old New Statesman has an editor able to echo Blair's achievement in what has been Labour's traditional organ.

He certainly intends to. Yesterday was his first day as editor, but Hargreaves has already finalised wide-ranging plans to turn the Statesman from something resembling a trade union newsletter into a magazine that can take on the Spectator - and win. Out will go what he describes as "the hideous layout", the often tiny print size, the muddled cover design. Out will go the words "& Society" from the masthead, and in will come "new columnists, diarists, writers and human interest features".

Out will also go the old offices at the unfortunately named Perseverance Works in Shoreditch, with the 20-strong staff to take up residence at plush new offices above Victoria tube station, a headquarters which Hargreaves hopes will become a drop-in place for like-minded journalists, thinkers and politicians.

Hargreaves is aiming for the Spectator's throat and if that means sacrificing even his old acquaintance, Tony Blair, and the complaisance of the Labour party, he is willing to do so. Ask him what he would do if evidence came his way of alleged corruption practised by a Labour figure and he says he would publish. "Yes, I would," Hargreaves says, pointing out that he is not a Labour Party member. He has had "extensive" talks with the magazine's new owner, the Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson, on this subject.

"Geoffrey Robinson is not an experienced publisher. He is a distinguished businessman, and he's going to find he gets blamed by his political friends for what's in the New Statesman. But he won't be responsible for what's in it. I will be responsible for that."

Hargreaves is clear: "I have no ambition or appetite for political office. I'm just a journalist, so my response to a story would be journalistic and Geoffrey Robinson knows that." Hargreaves will not only be targeting his friends on the left, however. He wants the Statesman to cover all of politics - "not just the internal struggles of the left, although I will make that the business of the place".

Either way, however, the media world will regard the New Statesman as the direct rival of the Spectator. "A lot of people say to me that the Spectator is now on the way down, but I think it's a pretty strong magazine. It's still got some good writers - like Matthew Parris - and I think Frank is a good writer, although not a particularly interesting political thinker."

The other thing people tend to say to Hargreaves is that they are surprised he agreed to edit the Statesman after having been in charge of more than 1,800 staff as head of the BBC's news and current affairs empire, and then more than 300 as editor of the Independent. But he says it is a pleasant prospect to work with such a small team, and it will mean, if nothing else, that he will see his wife and two children more than in previous incarnations.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm for the New Statesman among journalists, and a lot of goodwill towards it, as there is towards the Independent." Hargreaves adjusts his glasses. "I regarded the Indy as a cause and I regard the New Statesman as a cause. I like causes, but when they're in trouble you need time to turn them around. You have to apply an approach and stick to it."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive - Graduate / Entry Level

£22000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital advertising infras...

Guru Careers: PR Account Director / SAM

£50 - 60k (DOE) + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: A PR Account Director / SAM ...

Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Insight Analyst

£32 - £37K + extensive benefits: Guru Careers: Research Analyst / Business Ins...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)