The kind of miracle that even Brian couldn't fix

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The Independent Online
BRIAN Basham, the legendary public relations man, is a fixer. Having trouble with a persistent competitor? Basham can sort you out. Want to be elected the president of a small African nation? Basham has what it takes. Why, recently he was even ready to save the New Statesman from oblivion, spending weeks talking up the possibility of refinancing.

Never mind that a PR guru is really meant to represent the interests of his many clients. It's just that he doesn't mind becoming the story himself.

Fixing the New Statesman may be beyond even his powers. The self-styled defender of the intelligent left-wing press is scheduled to resign as a New Statesman director on Tuesday, having failed in his attempts to lead a refinancing for the troubled title. Basham, 52, has been waging a war of words with Philip Jeffrey, the largest shareholder who resisted his efforts.

"Philip Jeffrey stopped everyone from stepping in," Mr Basham said. "If he had not intervened, I'd have gone to a number of people - wealthy members of the Labour Party." He intimates he might have approached his friend Victor Blank, a merchant banker with a history of involvement in the media. Mr Blank, along with Mr Basham, advised Tony O'Reilly in his attempt to win control of the Independent last year.

Basham rose to fame (and fortune) in the 1980s, when he ran Broad Street, the public relations company. The decade's takeover frenzy fuelled growth and prosperity for Mr Basham and his colleagues: even when he advised the losing side, Broad Street pocketed the fees.

Broad Street failed in 1989, and Mr Basham set up Warwick Communications, which he now runs. Since then, his most famous client has been British Airways, accused of fighting a "dirty tricks" campaign against Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic in the early 1990s. More recently, Mr Basham has continued to act for Tony O'Reilly and other equally well-heeled clients.

His work does not stop at the corporate world, however. He advised Malawi's former president Hastings Banda (now facing trial for murder), and pocketed a fee rumoured to be pounds 750,000. Another of his recent obsessions is to back a campaign to restore the two-minute silence on Armistice Day.

Journalists have many stories about Mr Basham, most of them unprintable. But he remains a charming mix of confidante, pedagogue, bully and friend.

He has spread his expertise, charm and money around, but only when his passion is aroused. In recent years, the press and politics have been favourite subjects - hence his current interest in the New Statesman.

"There is far too much of the right and the extreme right in this country," Mr Basham says. "I am a well-wisher of the press of the Left." On politics, he is avowedly pro-Labour. "There are a lot of people who are fed up with the unfairness and dishonesty of this government," he said.

"A number of people become members of the Left because they are attracted by Blair and driven away by the Conservatives - not so much by Major himself but by the memory of Thatcher. It is revulsion about Thatcher that really drives it."

Hence his desire to see a magazine of the Left, such as New Statesman, prosper. But that desire is unlikely to be fulfilled.

"There was a prospect of raising money," he says, more in sorrow than in anger. "But we must assume that those resources are unavailable."

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