The Staggers gets a grip and cocks a snook at rival

Michael Streeter finds the New Statesman revived
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The Independent Online
The row over Clare Short's attack on the "dark forces" of Labour has over-shadowed a quiet but significant revolution at one of Britain's best-loved institutions - the New Statesman. For the "Staggers", as the magazine is affectionately known, that controversial Short interview is a sign that, once again, it is a political force to be reckoned with.

Other high-profile stories in the magazine recently have included the attack by Joy Johnson, Labour's former cam- paigns and media chief, on Tony Blair's "elaborate and obscure" rhetoric; and the interview with Peter Thomson, 60, the Australian vicar who inspired the Blairite view of politics at Oxford University.

Already the effects have been noticeable. The New Statesman now has a circulation of 22,000, a 4,000 increase in just a couple of months and a figure that may soon begin to worry its right-wing rival, The Spectator, which has also built sales on high-profile scoops.

The two men behind the revival of the magazine - once essential reading for the political elite, latterly seen as rather dreary and sectarian- ridden rag - are new editor Ian Hargreaves (ex-editor of The Independent) and new owner, Geoffrey Robinson, the multi-millionaire Labour MP.

Ironically, in view of the Short row, this is the same Mr Robinson whose Tuscany villa is at present providing a summer holiday venue for Mr and Mrs Blair.Yesterday, it seemed Mr Hargreaves was also away, but his deputy, Jane Taylor, was pleased with the latest scoop."We're delighted to be at the centre of attention and creating waves and getting people reading and thinking about the issues involved."

Scoops, in fact, are not necessarily the first concern of the "Staggers"- that is more good analysis and good writing. And the Short interview, one of a number with senior political figures, had, in effect, fallen into their laps."The interview was originally going to take place on the day after the Shadow Cabinet election results and understandably she re- arranged it," said Ms Taylor."Once she had done it, we realised that the interview would make news."

However, many see the run of headline-grabbing stories, coupled with a re-design two months ago, as a clear and aggressive sign of wanting to make the New Statesman a magazine able to compete with success of The Spectator - which has broken a number of big stories, including the anti- German remarks by Nicholas Ridley which led to his resignation from the Cabinet, Lord Denning's belief in the hanging of Irish terrorists, the exposure of journalist Richard Gott's apparent KGB links, and the royal tittle-tattle revealed by A N Wilson after a private dinner party with the Queen Mother.

Such revelations have been fewer under the new editor, Frank Johnson, but he is pleased about the resurgence of his rival."I think it is a good thing that it is doing well. I welcome it, there is room for us all. I think people will always buy good magazines,and good newspapers." Mr Johnson has reason to be magnanimous. The Spectator is about to announce circulation figures of more than 55,000 - the best ever. The "Staggers" still has some way to go.

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