Media Profile: Driving the new political debate - Peter Wilby, editor, New Statesman

The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said recently that his paper’s circulation traditionally falls under a Labour government because the left-wing press prefers to be in opposition. If true, this spells bad news for the New Statesman which has been clawing its circulation back over the last two years from a nadir of 17,000.

The Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said recently that his paper’s

circulation traditionally falls under a Labour government because the

left-wing press prefers to be in opposition. If true, this spells bad

news for the New Statesman which has been clawing its circulation back

over the last two years from a nadir of 17,000.



New editor Peter Wilby isn’t worried though. ’I think our contacts with

New Labour will actually stand us in good stead over the next few

years,’ he says. ’The magazine is close to New Labour, although we

aren’t slavish supporters, and we are going to be able to carry the

debates that matter.



At a recent Downing Street seminar, the majority of the people there

either were writing for us or had written for us. We’ve people who are

well placed in Blair’s and Brown’s camps and we’ll have the discussion

within the party on our pages.’



Wilby hopes this will propel the New Statesman to the position of

leading political weekly journal in the country. His wish is for the New

Statesman to emulate the success of the Spectator in the 1980s and early

1990s.



’The Spectator is just boring now,’ he says. ’The right is bereft of

ideas and just seems to squabble over Europe. The Tory party is boring

and marginalised both by its size and its low standing in the opinion

polls. All the debates that matter are now on the left.’



Wilby isn’t content to let the changing political environment dictate

the New Statesman’s fortunes. There will be the inevitable redesign and

Wilby wants to boost what he calls ’the back section’ - covering arts

and books - which will expand into a section covering far more, from the

internet, food and science to sport and health.



’It’s not a lifestyle section though,’ he says with a shudder. ’There’s

enough of those. This should be a culture section and it should help the

magazine become more accessible.’



The New Statesman, claims Wilby, used to be a narrow, marginalised and

boring title with impenetrable writing that only appealed to the

converted.



His predecessor Ian Hargreaves, says Wilby, made the magazine more

accessible and he wants to build on that. He plans to recruit more

columnists to join the likes of Will Self, Hunter Davies and Michael

Bywater. Wilby’s just picked up Andrew Stephen, the Observer’s man in

Washington, as his own Washington correspondent, nabbed Jason Cowley

from the Times literary features and he’s recruiting an arts editor.



’We now have to persuade those people whose politics are closer to ours

than the weekly journal they are currently reading to return to us,’ he

says, bemoaning the lack of an advertising budget. ’Overall, though I

think the signs are good. The magazine will be more relaxing and more

jolly. As the Spectator becomes the fringe political journal, I think

we’re well placed to become the UK’s leading political weekly.’



HIGHLIGHTS

1989

Home editor, Independent on Sunday

1991

Deputy editor, Independent on Sunday

1995

Editor, Independent on Sunday

1996

Books editor, New Statesman

1998

Editor, New Statesman



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