SOMETHING MIGHT JUST TURN UP

Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 2 October 2009

Every ambitious young journalist has a dream job or five, and in my early 20s, my top target was editor of the New Statesman. I didn’t get there de jure but did de facto, because, after three years as deputy editor of the magazine, I took the chair for six issues in the interregnum between Steve Platt and Ian Hargreaves when the oleaginous Geoffrey Robinson became proprietor in 1996. And before that I edited Tribune, which was dream job number two, after a long stint as Tribune reviews editor, which was third on my list.

So I’ve not got a lot of complaints, really. I’ve reached the age of 50 and have done the jobs that used to be done by George Orwell, Michael Foot, Dick Crossman and – OK, I’m pushing it – Kingsley Martin. I might have been useless in all of those roles, I might be a washed-up has-been. But I’m not, at least in my own mind, a never-was. I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody, as Marlon Brando put it in On the Waterfront, even if I’m now a bum.

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Enough, though, of me, me, me and my birthday-induced sense of angst. This column was supposed to be about the New Statesman, which has a new – or newish – editor, Jason Cowley, and which relaunched last week with a redesign and a raft of new contributors.

The design is clean and smart, a cross between the Berliner Guardian and Time Out in the early 1980s. I don’t much like slab serif fonts myself, but they seem to be all the rage again, and at least they’ve not gone for Rockwell Bold.

The content is a different matter. The Statesman is, like Tribune, primarily a political weekly of the left, whatever it might do with its back end. And the current issue is not short of must-read material for politicos: Steve Richards is as insightful as usual on the Labour Party and there’s a big, though typically unrevealing, interview with Gordon Brown.

But something isn’t quite right. I’m sorry, but no one who publishes Neil Clark, an apologist for Slobodan Milosevic, can be taken seriously; and announcing that Phillip Blond, the “red Tory” policy-wonk, will be a regular columnist is not – how shall I put it? – a turn-on.

Getting 20 worthy pressure-group types to say what they want from the Labour manifesto was not an inspired idea – and nor was making the cover story for the relaunch issue a list of the 50 most important people in the world. Hey, surprise, surprise, Barack Obama is number one. No one at an editorial conference appears to have made the obvious point that not a single reader gives a damn how New Statesman staffers rank the importance of, er, important people.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. I know from experience that it’s very easy not to get relaunch issues quite right. And the Statesman is hardly alone on the British left in appearing confused about what it is there for and hopelessly lacking in self-confidence – as anyone who was at Labour conference in Brighton this week will tell you.

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I’m writing this on Tuesday before Gordon Brown’s keynote speech – the downside of Tribune’s glossy full-colour transformation is that the deadlines are earlier – and by the time you read this, his efforts might have transformed everything, but so far this has been the most surreal Labour conference since the 1970s.

In public, nearly everyone apart from the (utterly marginal) hard left has been on message. I never thought I’d witness delegates giving Peter Mandelson a standing ovation, but on Monday I did, after he delivered quite the weirdest speech I’ve heard from a conference platform since the heyday of Margaret Thatcher.

In private, however, there are very few in Brighton who think that Labour’s “fightback” will work. Even a year ago, there was a hard core of Labour optimists who really believed that the party had a decent chance of winning the next general election. Now, although everyone is still talking the talk about the election being up for grabs, most of last year’s optimists admit that it will take a miracle for Labour to win.

All the same, the mood has been a lot less downbeat than I expected, particularly after that Mandelson speech. There’s no sense that we might as well throw in the towel: if Labour goes down next spring it will do so fighting, not quitting. And who knows? Something might just turn up.

Richard Vinen, Times Literary Supplement

Orwell in Tribune: ‘As I Please’ and other writings 1943-47 edited by Paul Anderson (Methuen, £14.99)
Orwell and Marxism:The political and cultural thinking of George Orwell by  Philip Bounds (I. B. Tauris. £52.50)

More than any other British author of the twentieth century, George Orwell has escaped from his own time. Every schoolchild who gets as far as GCSE English will have read at least one Orwell novel, and the one that they are most likely to have read (Nineteen Eighty-Four) is, ostensibly at least, not set in Orwell’s own lifetime. Orwell was fascinated by children’s literature and some of his books have a special appeal to children (particularly, I suspect, boys in their early teens). This means that most people read Orwell before they have any sense of the period in which he wrote; indeed, before they have much sense of why it might matter to understand the period in which a writer worked. Continue reading

Peter Stothard, Daily Beast

Classics are timeless—or so we think. In the case of George Orwell, the distinguished historian Richard Vinen points out in the TLS this week that he has “escaped from his own time”: “Every school child who gets as far as GCSE English will have read at least one Orwell novel…. This means that most people read Orwell before they have any sense of the period in which he wrote; indeed, before they have much sense of why it might matter to understand the period in which a writer worked.” A volume of his writings for the Tribune from the years before 1984, and a new study about Orwell and Marxism, put Orwell rewardingly back in his historical place–-and show how the timeless work of literature emerged from the messy business of writing to the moment.

Sebastian Shakespeare, Evening Standard

With the future of the left-wing weekly hanging in the balance, there could be no more timely reminder of its importance to British culture than the reissue of Orwell in Tribune, a collection of George Orwell’s essays edited by Paul Anderson. Continue reading

Tom Widger, Sunday Tribune (Dublin)

The questioning mind in me has always loved Orwell. The Orwell who just about escaped death from the Soviet NKVD at the close of the Spanish Civil War, the Orwell of Wigan Pier, the creator of the Thought Police, the pigs in Animal Farm. The Orwell who scoffed at tidied-up language, such as “friendly fire”. The book to hand is a collection of essays that came out in left-wing literary weeklies. Orwell usually had three or four deadlines a week to meet, including the “As I Please” column, and despite the years of publication – the mid 1940s – they are as fresh as though they were written last week. That said, of course, the themes – the class war, the structure of society – are still topical, and always will be.

Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski, Independent on Sunday

In 1943, weary of his wartime work for the BBC, where he had little time for his own writing and had become impatient with the level of censorship imposed by the Ministry of Information, George Orwell accepted a job as literary editor of the leftwing weekly, Tribune. Broadly speaking, he sympathised with the paper’s politics and, given an exceptional degree of editorial freedom, he spent the next 13 months in the job and then the following three-and-a-half years as a columnist and reviewer, writing pretty much what he wanted. Continue reading

Jean Birnbaum, Le Monde

[…] De 1943 à 1947, George Orwell tient une chronique hebdomadaire dans Tribune, un journal dont les idées se situent à la gauche du Parti travailliste. Intitulées A ma guise, ces chroniques traitent de sujets très divers, depuis l’arrivée du printemps jusqu’aux annonces matrimoniales, en passant par la fête de Noël, l’état de la presse, la hausse des prix ou encore l’antisémitisme. La plupart de ces textes étaient déjà disponibles en français, mais les éditions Agone ont eu la bonne idée d’en publier l’intégralité en un seul volume. Continue reading

Peter Robins, Daily Telegraph

“As I Please”, the weekly column that George Orwell wrote for Tribune in the 1940s, shows him at his most attractive: in direct and economically humorous prose, he ranges from the Cornhill magazine to the future of warfare, always ready to argue seriously with readers’ letters and unafraid to attack Tribune’s advertisers. Orwell is not a wholly reliable prophet (on the verge of the baby boom, he worries about Britain’s declining population) but this holds up better than most collections of fugitive pieces. Paul Anderson’s notes clarify the occasional bouts of Fleet Street infighting.

ORWELL’S BRUSH WITH BIG BROTHER

Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 18 September 2007

I know it’s a bit late to give you my take on the materials released at the beginning of the month by the National Archives – but I’ve not had a chance before now, so you’re lumped with it. I’m talking about the surveillance files on George Orwell, of course, which occupied the up-market papers for a day or two four weeks ago and since have been completely forgotten. Continue reading

D. J. Taylor, Independent on Sunday

Books of the year feature

The year’s work in Orwell studies produced two terrific books: Peter Davison’s The Lost Orwell (Timewell Press), which brings together all the material discovered since his monumental 20-volume George Orwell: The Complete Works (1998), and Orwell in Tribune (Politico’s), edited by the magazine’s former editor Paul Anderson. My favourite homegrown novel was Will Self’s The Book of Dave (Viking), a London dystopia whose roots curl all the way back to Richard Jeffferies.