Magazine reels from clashes over editor

THE left-wing New Statesman and Society is in crisis again. Having barely survived last year's libel actions by the Prime Minister and the Downing Street cook, Clare Latimer, its chairman has been forced into resignation, its editor into a

corner, its staff into paranoia, and its major shareholder into gloom.

The weekly magazine - nicknamed the Staggers - is famous for its earnest commitment to democratic, pluralist and egalitarian ideals. But it is also famous for a tendency to go into spasm, usually self-

induced. Can it survive the latest one?

Last week, following a dispute over who should edit the magazine, its chairman, Duncan Campbell, was replaced. Mr Campbell, who worked for the weekly for 16 years and served as non-executive chairman since 1990, described events leading to his overthrow as a series of 'lunacies'.

The crisis has its roots in the Major-Latimer libel actions, which cost the publication an estimated pounds 250,000 and threatened its very existence. Circulation is edging below 20,000.

At one point, a former Conservative MP, Derek Coombs, offered to save it with a pounds 1m injection, later reduced to pounds 250,000 when board members became nervous of one man - and a Tory to boot - assuming too much power.

In the end, Mr Coombs was not needed. The editor, Steve Platt, invited Philip Jeffrey, a left-wing Northern businessman, to lend a hand. Mr Jeffrey invested pounds 400,000. For a time, on the surface, all seemed well. Champagne was consumed. Mr Jeffrey invited Mr Campbell to his home for dinner, beer (the Jeffrey tipple) and wine (the Campbell tipple). 'It was all perfectly friendly,' Mr Campbell recalled yesterday. 'But Philip was never forthcoming about his intentions.'

According to Mr Jeffrey, his intentions were simple. 'The magazine has changed its editor five times in 12 years,' he said. 'There are those who think it's time to change again. There are others, like me, who want to redefine the New Statesman's profile in the closing years of the century and increase our circulation.

'For those objectives you need stability, rather than a change of editor.'

Simplicity ceases at this point. Those who want a new editor have complicated their case by (a) liking Steve Platt, and (b) not knowing who to install in his place. 'Steve is a really decent guy,' a pro- change source said. 'He was in the wrong over the libel thing, which demoralised everybody and jeopardised the magazine, but he has been incredibly loyal to it. On the other hand . . . please don't identify me. This isn't paranoia . . . well, yes,

it is.'

Mr Platt might well have capitalised on the staff's residual affection for him had he not called them into his room one by one and tried to discover where they stood on the editorship issue. The board was split 50-50. Mr Campbell cast his chairman's vote against Mr Platt, saying editors followed a cyclical pattern, 'with certain characteristics, such as rapidly declining circulation and internal morale, marking the time when a change should be made'.

Hard words have tumbled into the mess. Mr Campbell said that Mr Jeffrey made an offensive remark about his (Mr Campbell's) homosexuality, though 'I found it hilarious and said to him, 'Bloody hell, give me a break]' ' Mr Jeffrey also threatened legal action against board members who opposed a recommendation that Mr Platt's contract be renewed for another year. Given that only the editorial board, consisting of directors of the company and two independent outsiders, can hire and fire editors, this did not go down well.

Yesterday, however, Mr Jeffrey was in a patch-it-up mood. 'It's very sad, really, that the issue has become personalised. Duncan Campbell holds passionate views, and I respect them. It may be that he could be right.'