Letter: The many values of independence

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The Independent Online
Sir: The troubles of the Independent are especially sad to one who from the outset formed part of its natural constituency. Long inured to the hypocrisy of traditional party politics, I had also welcomed the SDP and begun at last to hope for real expressive force at the centre of British politics.

At times I have felt the Independent has pursued a too Tory tone in educational arguments, but as a teacher, headteacher, adviser and inspector over the past 30 years, I know only too well how much the system has needed shaking up. Even now I fear for the nation's schools if the profession be allowed to retreat too far from the breath of fresh air that the national curriculum has promised.

Because I have been at times antipathetic to the slant of the Independent, I have come to recognise the meaning of the word, at least as far as traditional journalism in this country goes. The analysis is always rigorous, be it in the leaders or in the opinion-forming feature columns. It is always inventive, not just the easy lines trotted out by one side or another. There is a clear differential in this respect that marks the paper out for me from the rest of the qualities.

How can such a crisis have arisen that now threatens its independence? Will not the arrival of the Mirror come to colour its comment and style? It is only recently that I realised this crisis must in part be due to me.

Before the Independent I had moved from the Daily Telegraph to the Guardian, via the Times, in line with the awakening of my political consciousness. The Times had, for a while, seduced me - as a younger and ambitious person - with its 'top people' claim; and residual loyalty remains, if only because it was my mother's daily paper, she being an avid and successful crossword enthusiast.

So, when I fell out with the Guardian, because it supported the opposition when I tried to retain the third teacher at my small village school through sponsorship and fund-raising, back in 1979 (we now call it local management of schools, and it is widely accepted), I returned to the Times.

When the Independent appeared, I knew at once that it was what I wanted. Yet, last autumn, when the Times began its cut-price campaign, I fell for it. The news coverage was as good, the range of features as interesting and I could read between the lines of the opinions.

After a couple of weeks it hit me that by buying the Times I was directly threatening the existence of the Independent. And I knew I didn't want that.

I find myself, it seems, facing a world possibly without the Independent and it shocks me. Just looking at the powerful statements the paper has been making in its columns this week, its clear leadership in challenging false argument and opinion wherever found, makes me realise that the paper has to survive.

The loss of vocabulary, albeit in part the result of creative extension, has successively diminished language. The grammar of political argument can be managed, after a fashion, with all the quality dailies. The Independent represents a richer political vocabulary. Couple this with the many awards that it has won for its journalism and, surely, those of us who came to it through our own search for independence of outlook simply must not let it die, whatever it takes.

Yours faithfully,

MERVYN BENFORD

Shutford, Oxfordshire

25 January

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