Plots, paranoia and politics at 'New Statesman'

By Ciar Byrne,Media Correspondent
Wednesday 03 November 2004 01:00

Cristina Odone, the departing deputy editor of the New Statesman , has accused "neo-left" plotters of subjecting her to a campaign of "very personal vitriol" during her time at the weekly political magazine.

Ms Odone, who announced yesterday that she was leaving the magazine in December after six and a half years to work on a television series and spend more time with her baby daughter, said she had endured a "very, very tough ride". She blamed Blairite factions from outside the New Statesman for making her life at the magazine difficult, saying that they felt threatened by the traditional socialist ideals espoused by Peter Wilby, the editor.

Ms Odone, a former editor of The Catholic Herald, admitted that she had had lots of "professional rows" with Mr Wilby and was unhappy about the latest cover of the magazine, which depicts Tony Blair as Stalin, "because I think Stalin was a murderer of millions and Tony Blair isn't". But she denied that the disagreements played any part in her decision to leave, adding that she was "very proud" of the editor's decision to take a stance against the Iraq war.

"The real reasons for my leaving are that I'm going to pursue television - I'm going to write and present a series about religion. Television requires fewer working hours and I have a 15-month-old baby and would like to spend more time at home with her," Ms Odone said.

"What interests me is the way that it has been spun. This shows that there are schemers and plotters and paranoid people out there.

"The New Statesman under Peter Wilby and Geoffrey Robinson's ownership has found a truly old-fashioned socialist team. Then there's a new development, neo-left Blairite to a man or woman. They're the ones who pay lip service to the age-old socialist ideals, but like any middle-class person talk about state schools but don't send their children there and don't believe in redistribution."

Ms Odone believes that as an Italian-American political outsider who was quickly disillusioned by Mr Blair's brand of Christian socialism, she became the target of a "very nasty and vicious infighting for control of a magazine that punches above its weight".

"I was never on the left. I was very much taken by Tony Blair's Christian socialist credentials, but I soon became disillusioned. What really got to me is how vicious this neo-left division could be. Because it's a very tribalist group they suspected me of being an interloper and a foreigner. They could never attack Peter [Wilby] because he was their conscience. Because I was the outsider, I got large amounts of very personal vitriol. It was a very, very tough ride."

She said that she hoped her contribution as deputy editor had been to bring more women to the New Statesman , as well as more "surprising" writers such as Amanda Platell, Joan Bakewell and Mariella Frostrup.

Mr Wilby dismissed reports that Ms Odone was leaving because of a series of clashes as "complete and utter nonsense".

"It's perfectly true that we have lots of rows and we have done for the past six and a half years, that's what journalists do," he said. "We've had an excellent working relationship over all that time."

Mr Wilby said that Ms Odone's great virtue was that she was not "an orthodox Labour leftie", which had enabled her "to help take the New Statesman out of its leftist ghetto".

The New Statesman sells only about 25,000 copies a week, but is seen as highly influential in political circles. In 1999, Robert Harris, the millionaire writer and friend of Peter Mandelson, tried to buy the magazine but was rebuffed.

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