Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 23 October 1987
Every time I open the New Statesman or Marxism Today these days I am struck by the number of Fleet Street and broadcasting names, familiar and unfamiliar, that appear in their pages — Financial Times journalists and BBC researchers writing about what their main employers pay them to know.
Of course, there can be no objection to the left press giving space to people working in the mainstream. Left papers and magazines (including Tribune) have always done this, blowing gaffes that otherwise would not be blown, airing informed opinions that otherwise would not be aired. It is no crime to be a leftist working on a paper or programme that is not left-wing; and many mainstream journalists write very well, not least because practice makes perfect.
The problem is that the Statesman and MT have gone overboard. They very often publish what mainstream journalists are already having printed or broadcast. And it sometimes almost seems as if they are closing their pages to would-be contributors who are not already published elsewhere. The result, particularly when put into the context of the tedious centrist politics of both magazines’ current regimes, is that both feel cliquish, stale and predictable.
Not that the rest of the left press is having a particularly good time. In the six months since :I last wrote one of these columns, Robert Maxwell’s excellent left-of-centre London Daily News has closed — as has Woman’s Review. News on Sunday has struggled from crisis to crisis, avoiding closure only by being taken over by a millionaire. The paper still has not found a distinctive identity. Peace News appears to be on the verge of suspending publication. And the Labour Party has decided to close Labour Weekly and reduce expenditure on New Socialist to the bare minimum.
New Socialist is lucky to survive: the intention had been to close both titles, but it was rescued at the last minute by the National Executive Committee’s acceptance of a plan for the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation to take over production costs in return for the revenue that New Socialist generates. Walworth Road will pick up the bill only for one full-time and one part-time salary, and the magazine will now come out once every two months. Let’s hope Labour Weekly can put together• an equivalent package: with the much heralded policy review about to start, Labour Party News and a bi-monthly New Socialist are hardly enough as official organs for debate about Labour’s future.
By contrast with these tales of disaster and near disaster — all of which should provoke serious thought by the left — New Society seems to have regained much of the vigour it had in the sixties. Just relaunched with a full-colour cover, it is now publishing some of the best and most original political features in the. British press. I don’t like the political line of its editor, David Lipsey (apparently the main centre-right candidate to succeed John Lloyd as editor of the New Statesman); but Lipsey does not stifle the expression of opinions he considers heterodox. New Society has a feel for the texture of everyday life that is rare in left journalism today, and it is not afraid to venture into obscure by-ways now and again for its subject matter and contributors.
Above all, the magazine is a reminder that the best print journalism is not the product of expert interpretation of the big stories on the television news but the result of writers experiencing events and talking to people.