Prospect's founding editor looks back over the 15 years since the magazine was launched—and picks his top ten articlesby David Goodhart / November 17, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
The way we were: Prospect’s very first issue
To edit is to choose. Now I have to pick the best of my choices during my time as editor, from the publication of the first issue in October 1995 up until now. But first, some thoughts on how the magazine has evolved over the past 15 years, and how it has reflected and contributed to the debates of its time.
When we launched in September 1995, Yitzhak Rabin was still prime minister of Israel (he was murdered two months later), Bill Clinton was heading towards re-election in the US and Tony Blair was 18 months from his first election victory in Britain. In the west, liberal baby boomers were coming to power hoping to take advantage of the end of the cold war to reform domestic and international politics.
It would be too bleak to say that the story of the past 15 years is a catalogue of disappointed hopes. But when we launched there was certainly a post-cold war sense of possibility that has been lost. Prospect was loosely part of the mid-1990s centre-left revival, embodied by Tony Blair, but we were never narrowly party political and sought the most interesting and authoritative voices from all over the political spectrum. In fact, what made us distinctively post-cold war was how lightly we carried our convictions: despite being in a loose sense a magazine of ideas, we were not trying to save the world from anything or convert it to anything (unlike our monthly predecessors Encounter, which was saving us from communism, and Marxism Today, which was committed to some kind of socialist transformation). The magazine tried to reflect and celebrate the messiness of our new times. We were more liberal than conservative in political outlook, but stood for nothing much more than good writing (especially essays and long form writing), independence of mind and an optimistic realism about human affairs.
Comparing the first issue with a more recent one there are certainly family resemblances, but many changes too. Amartya Sen’s first-issue cover essay on the interconnection between economic growth and political freedom—with special focus on China and India—is the kind of big picture argument that we might run as a cover story today (though now it would be far more tightly edited). There were plenty of stylish writers on display: Alan Ryan, Frederic Raphael and the then unknown comic writer Jeremy Clarke (who was poached a few years later by the Spectator). Andrew Adonis (who also appears, in disguise, in my final issue as editor) was then an FT journalist and wrote a prescient piece on how Tony Blair could be his own secretary of state for education. But apart from an essay by Brian Glanville on sports journalism, there was little on culture or the arts. That began to change with Jason Cowley’s literary essays and interviews and was given further impetus by the arrival of in 2001 of Alexander Linklater as my second deputy (taking over from Valerie Monchi). He introduced many of the arts writers, like Mark Cousins on cinema and Ben Lewis on art, who still write for Prospect today. We also began publishing short stories in every issue, and including more narrative journalism and reportage. Subjectivity began to count as well as arguments and ideas. (And our distinctive selection of cartoons began to attract attention too.)