The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: Staggering heights

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The Independent Online
I SEE that what one used to know affectionately as the New Staggers(]) is up to its old tricks again, much to the childish amusement, one feels sure, of its five-and-a- half remaining readers, a figure made up largely of librarians, 'teachers' and other disaffected members of society.

Yet despite its present bout of infantile cock-snooking, I am sorry to see that once-great organ reduced, under the unashamedly leftist editorship of Mr Steve Platt (dread name]), to its present sorry state - no pun intended]

My own association with the New Staggers goes back nigh on 25 years, to the days when that most civilised of left-wing hotheads, Mr Paul Johnson, warmed the editor's chair. Under his editorship, there was no question whatever that the magazine, though on the centre-left of British politics, was anything but full-square behind the rule of law, the right of the police to do what they want, wherever they want to do it, the importance of a free market, the need for massive curbs on the union bully-boys of the hard left and, perhaps above all, an end to the spendthrift excesses of the so- called Welfare State.

'I have just finished penning a hard-hitting editorial detailing the true socialist position on Mr Heath and his three-day week,' Paul announced over a triumphant five-course luncheon in the boardroom one day. We all leant forward in leisurely fashion to hear his diagnosis. 'I make no bones about it. We would much prefer a five-day week, or even a four-day week, but, in these difficult times, we must be grateful for what we have. Thus Mr Heath and his Government may remain sure of our continued loyalty.'

'Excellent] Most pithily put]' declared Mr John Mortimer, at that time chairman of the board of governors, adding cogently, 'If you've finished with the roast spuds down that end, send them down this end as some of us are utterly famished]'

Such was the historic badinage that led the New Staggers then to be considered the most convivial and civilised of all left-wing publications, a welcome change from its notably wrong-headed years in which headlines such as 'Mao an Absolute Pussy-cat', 'Trotsky a Poppet' and 'Stalin is our Darlin' ' were de rigueur. And Paul was ever on the look-out for grammatical infelicity, rightly spiking a report detailing American atrocities in Vietnam which contained the unbearable, nay hideous, howler 'A group of women and children were brutally murdered yesterday . . .' Luckily, the features editor of the time had a gently amusing article by myself on 'If it's Wednesday, it Must Be Rome: The Dubious Pleasures of the Tourist Classes' tucked away in a bottom drawer with which to replace it, so all was far from lost]]

In those far-off days of yesteryear, those of us on the board of the New Statesman, whether Conservative or Liberal, centre-left or centre-right, were fully aware of our responsibilities to the government of the day and the business community as a whole. Indeed, such was our sense of propriety that when a distraught Johnson tearfully announced his resignation from the Party, three-quarters of us took him to mean that he had resigned from the Conservative Party, having become disillusioned with their increasingly leftish inclinations.

By the late Seventies, the New Staggers had openly turned sharp left, and was only to be found wrapping the chop suey in the most Maoist of Chinese takeaways. Even the names on the contents page - Tariq Ali, Eric Hobsbawm et al - sounded more like the kind of thing one might encounter somewhere near the very bottom of the carrier bag in a Set Meal for 12 Persons. The dining-table at the Staggers, once groaning with piping hot meals, was now reduced to the odd Vegetarian Sausage Roll plus Cuppa Soup Accompaniment. Small wonder that Amis, Arnold, Johnson, Mortimer and Waterhouse strode northwards to the goodly offices of the Spectator, knives and forks at the ready. A journal that cannot keep its scriveners in tuck surely deserves to close. At last, methinks, the dread Major has performed a deed worthy of his high office.

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