Board sacked as 'Statesman' chief steps into the fray

CHRIS BLACKHURST

Westminster Correspondent

The crisis at the ailing left-wing weekly magazine New Statesman and Society deepened yesterday with Philip Jeffrey, the magazine's major shareholder, sacking the entire board and appointing himself as chairman.

Steve Platt, the editor and a frequent critic of Tony Blair, has had his job made safe for the time being. After mounting speculation, fuelled by off-the- record briefings to journalists from some directors, that Mr Platt would be making way for a more high-profile name, Mr Jeffrey intervened. "I am asking the board to resign because they have failed," he said from Cyprus. "What has happened today is not good news for Tony Blair."

Mr Jeffrey, who until now has exercised little direct power over the magazine and is not a director, took his decision after being contacted by staff in London. They told him they were on the point of passing a vote of no confidence in the board. "I agree with the staff. I said enough is enough," explained Mr Jeffrey, who made his fortune from the Fads decorating chain. "I said I would like the board's resignations by Sunday, failing which I would call an extraordinary general meeting to force their resignations."

His move came at the end of a week of already high drama. On Wednesday, Mr Platt tendered his resignation, only to withdraw it a day later. Fed up with being undermined by a faction on the board claiming he was not "good box office" and would not appeal to future new investors, he changed his mind. His about-turn was also caused by suspicion that Mr Blair's office was somehow involved.

In January this year, Mr Jeffrey agreed to extend to April plans to refinance the magazine which has seen its circulation stay flat at 20,000. That deadline was pushed back again, to October. With no firm sign of new investors, and an increasingly demoralised staff and editor, Mr Jeffrey took charge.

He has no intention of remaining chairman long-term. "I will appoint a chairman and other directors, and an accountant to look at the books," he said. "I want people from the left to come forward, to take over the magazine and make it financially viable."

From being on the point of consulting his lawyers, following attempts to undermine him, Mr Platt is still in charge. "I regard Steve Platt as a man of great integrity and I support him all the way," Mr Jeffrey said.

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