Wilby stands down as editor of 'New Statesman'

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The Independent Online

Peter Wilby is standing down as editor of the left-wing weekly the New Statesman after nearly seven years. The magazine's political editor, John Kampfner, will take his place.

Geoffrey Robinson, the magazine's owner, said there was no sinister reason for Mr Wilby's departure, but he had decided that after a seven-year stint, and with a new government, it was the right time to go.

Mr Robinson said: "He's been a great success. We have seen a steady increase in sales and an expansion of business generally. The thing that strikes everybody is that his editorials are extremely cogently and lucidly written. He's been editor for seven years, the longest serving editor since Kingsley Martin. It's a good time with a new government and a new Parliament for him to go. There are nothing other than wholly good feelings between him and us."

Mr Wilby, a former editor of The Independent on Sunday, took over as editor of the New Statesman from Ian Hargreaves in 1998.

Despite a circulation of just 25,000, the title enjoys considerable influence in political circles and has returned to profit under Mr Wilby. The high profile he has brought to the magazine failed to dampen speculation about how long he would last as editor.

Mr Kampfner joined the title in 2002, when he replaced Jackie Ashley as political editor after she left to join The Guardian.

Mr Kampfner is a former chief political correspondent at the Financial Times and former foreign correspondent with Reuters and The Daily Telegraph, and wroteBlair's Wars, an account of the military campaigns waged by the Prime Minister. He has also presented several BBC documentaries and was a political commentator for the Today programme.

Mr Robinson said: "John is a very good writer and journalist and he sees it as a challenge."

Mr Wilby's reign at the "Staggers" has been filled with accusations of in-fighting and controversial covers. He recently fell out with the Catholic Herald after marking the death of Pope John Paul II by proclaiming on the cover: "He did more to spread Aids in Africa than prostitution and the trucking industry combined."

When his former deputy, Cristina Odone, quit the magazine in November she accused "neo left" plotters of having subjected her to a campaign of personal vitriol and spoke of Blairite factions from outside the magazine, who she said felt threatened by Mr Wilby's traditional socialist ideals.

Mr Wilby, who led the New Statesman in opposing the Iraq war, clashed with his predecessor and columnist, John Lloyd, over his opposition to the US-led action in Afghanistan, which Mr Lloyd backed.

One of the most embarrassing moments of his editorship came in January 2002, when he was forced to apologise for an error of judgement over the cover line "A Kosher Conspiracy" accompanying two controversial articles in the magazine, which prompted accusations of anti-Semitism.

Founded in April 1913 as the house journal of the Fabian Society, at its peak after the Second World War, the New Statesman enjoyed a circulation of 70,000.