A clutch of new editors is beginning to revive the fortunes of the liberal press. Richard Gott argues that the important battle is not between left and right, but between seriousness and trivialisation. He also confesses his own small role in nudging the Guardian newspaper down-marketby Richard Gott / July 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Recent ructions at the pompously-named Guardian Media Group, coupled with the change in ownership and editorship of the New Statesman, and the appointment of a new editor at the Independent, draw attention to the fortunes of the left-liberal press. They may even presage a change in the political clout of what for years has been denigrated as “the chattering classes,” a group once perceived less pejoratively as “the progressive intelligentsia.”
The arrival of fresh faces, distinctive yet similar and coming all at the same time, suggests that important developments are in the wind-not just those which may foreshadow a Labour victory at some future election, but those which indicate a possible sea-change in the nature of the serious press itself. With Will Hutton at the Observer, Andrew Marr at the Independent and Ian Hargreaves at the New Statesman, what remains of the left-liberal axis in Britain suddenly has powerful new allies in the media. They may have arrived in the nick of time.
The Independent, once a bright star in the firmament, has been in difficulties, both commercial and intellectual, for some time. The long decline of the Observer and the New Statesman, with their specific historical baggage, is more serious. Both have been dismal artifacts for some time. Their decay has reflected not just a febrile journalism, but a more general breakdown in left-liberal thought and action. Ever since the collapse, in the 1980s, of David Owen’s Social Democrats and of the forces associated with Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Council, this once powerful strand in public life has been noticeable more by its absence than its influence.
In journalism, for much of this time, the right has had, if not necessarily the best tunes, certainly some of the best voices: the cultural sponge of the Sunday Times, buying up much of the available talent with little discrimination; the tweedy weekend-in-the-country columns of the Spectator, with their relished, almost self-mocking nostalgia for the past; the increasingly confident right wing sermons from the two Telegraphs. These have set both the political agenda and its tone. Many of the writers on these papers have enjoyed the kind of succ?s d’estime that was previously the chief reward of the left.
Left-liberal papers, after all, didn’t hope to make a profit; they just expected to be read. Yet for sheer readability the right wing press has won hands down in recent years, and…