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Walter Bagehot: How his column in The Economist on state of British politics has been a must-read in Westminister for decades

  • @andymcsmith

Arguably, Walter Bagehot’s single most enduring legacy is the weekly news magazine, The Economist, which he edited for the last 17 years of his life.

Unusually for a British publication, The Economist does not give its staff writers by-lines, the idea being that the magazine speaks with one voice.

But there is one name that has appeared above a column consistently, week in, week out, for many years, commenting on the current state of British politics. But the name above the column was not that of a living writer: it was Bagehot.

Over the years, a large number of writers have been “Bagehot” – most of them male. Some have gone on to be famous under their own names, notably the young Andrew Marr, now a BBC doyen, who did a brief stint as Bagehot 25 years ago.

But even “Bagehot” has had to adapt to the arrival of the internet, and what was a printed column became a blog. In June 2010, a new occupant of the Bagehot blog spot took the rare step of identifying himself on line.

This was David Rennie, who had spent the previous 12 years as a foreign correspondent. His stint as Bagehot lasted two years, until June 2012, when he posted an apology to his readers for the previous month’s “very limited blogging”, explaining that he had been posted to Washington at very short notice.

The most recent occupant of the slot is The Economist’s political editor, James Astill, whose previous posting was in India.

His most recent blog, this week, took him to Leeds to talk to members of the English Defence League.  Through a fug of cannabis smoke, he was told to “get the fook outta it!” Not language Walter would have used.

Main story: The plan to turn Walter Bagehot into a tourist attraction