MEDIA: Can Labour-supporting titles cut the apron strings?

The appointment of Andrew Marr as editor of the Independent, however grudgingly accepted by the Mirror Group, is a clear signal that the struggling paper plans to seize the huge opportunity presented by the forthcoming General Election. It is a message to both long-suffering readers, and those who might be wooed back, that here is a paper you will need to take note of once again, as it has a shrewd political brain at its controlling centre.

The appointment of Andrew Marr as editor of the Independent, however

grudgingly accepted by the Mirror Group, is a clear signal that the

struggling paper plans to seize the huge opportunity presented by the

forthcoming General Election. It is a message to both long-suffering

readers, and those who might be wooed back, that here is a paper you

will need to take note of once again, as it has a shrewd political brain

at its controlling centre.



If you set aside the vital internal question of whether Marr can

actually run a newspaper, as well as writing his well-read columns, it

is a logical appointment. People do buy more newspapers during an

election. The fledgling Independent found its salvation during the

General Election campaign of 1987 when readers flocked to enjoy its

aggressive but even-handed political reporting. With a few key

appointments Marr can probably reinvent that stance.



But the larger question for publications broadly sympathetic to Labour -

the New Statesman, Observer, Guardian and the Independent and their

relatively new top editorial teams - is how best to position themselves

in the next two years. All have become accustomed to dissecting Tory

follies. How will they generate interesting copy once Labour is in

power. Will their editors be able to withstand the flattery and

invitations to enter the inner circle, which so grievously wounded

papers like the Sunday and Daily Express under Thatcher?



The Guardian has certainly been pondering this issue. But the paper,

whether cannily or not, has created quite a tension and distance between

itself and New Labour over the past two years. There is a degree of

exasperation over what Blair stands for: whether he will be radical

enough on issues such as the environment, the rush to selective

education and what may be an irrevocably privatised rail network.



This approach can annoy a large part of its readership, but it may also

be a long-term source of strength. The Guardian also has a cadre of

experienced political journalists who are unlikely to have their heads

turned.



Marr, as those who read him know, comes over at times as quite pro-

Labour. He is red hot on the need for constitutional reform, a serious

Blairite theme, but he is also quite convinced that Britain cannot

sustain a high taxation corporate state, looking after its citizens from

cradle to grave. Individuals taking responsibility for themselves in a

relatively free market forms part of his bracing stance and may well be

too astringent for a Blair-led Cabinet.



The hardest challenge faces the New Statesman, which is most clearly

tied to Labour’s coat tails. Will it have the bottle to criticise and

satirise as well as dissect? My advice is to introduce a diary of an

Islingtonian to capture the inner bizarre world of champagne socialism.



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