New Statesman

From Academic Kids

This article is about New Statesman magazine. For the Rik Mayall sitcom of the same name, see The New Statesman.

The New Statesman is a left-of-centre political weekly published in London.



The New Statesman was founded in 1913 by Sidney and Beatrice Webb with the support of George Bernard Shaw and other prominent members of the Fabian Society, and its first editor was Clifford Sharp. Sharp remained editor until 1928, though during his last two years in post he was debilitated by chronic alcoholism and the paper was actually edited by his deputy Charles Mostyn Lloyd, who stood in after Sharp's departure until the appointment of Kingsley Martin as editor in 1930 a position Martin was to hold for 30 years. Although the Webbs and most Fabians were closely associated with the Labour Party, Sharp was drawn increasingly to the Asquith Liberals.

The Statesman under Kingsley Martin

At the same time as Martin became editor, the Statesman merged with the Liberal weekly the Nation, and changed its name to the New Statesman and Nation, which it remained until 1964. The chairman of the Nation's board was the economist John Maynard Keynes, who came to be an important influence on the newly merged paper, which started with a circulation of just under 13,000.

During the 1930s, Martin's Statesman moved markedly to the left politically. It became strongly anti-fascist and was generally critical of the government policy of appeasement of Mussolini and Hitler (though it did not back British rearmament). It was also, notoriously, an apologist for Stalin's Soviet Union. In 1934 it ran a famously deferential interview with Stalin by H. G. Wells. In 1938 came Martin's celebrated refusal to publish George Orwell's despatches from Barcelona during the Spanish civil war because they criticised the communists for suppressing the anarchists and the left-wing POUM. "It is an unfortunate fact," Martin wrote to Orwell, "that any hostile criticism of the present Russian regime is liable to be taken as propaganda against socialism."

The Statesman's circulation grew massively under Martin's editorship, reaching 70,000 by 1945, and it became a key player in Labour politics. The paper welcomed Labour's 1945 general election victory but took a critical line on the new government's foreign policy. The young Labour MP Richard Crossman, who had been an assistant editor before the war, was Martin's chief lieutenant in this period, and the Statesman published Keep Left, the pamphlet written by Crossman, Michael Foot and Ian Mikardo that most succinctly laid out the Labour left's proposals for a "third force" foreign policy rather than alliance with the United States.

During the 1950s, the Statesman remained a left critic of British foreign and defence policy and of the Labour leadership of Hugh Gaitskell (though Martin never got on personally with Aneurin Bevan, the leader of the anti-Gaitskellite Labour left). It opposed the Korean war, and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament grew directly out of an article in the Statesman by J. B. Priestly.

After Kingsley

Martin retired in 1960 and was replaced as editor by John Freeman, a politician-journalist who had resigned from the Labour government in 1951 with Bevan and Harold Wilson. Freeman left in 1965 and was followed in the chair by Paul Johnson, under whose editorship the Statesman reached its highest ever circulation of 90,000.

Decline and crisis

After Johnson's departure in 1970, the Statesman went into a long period of circulation decline under successive editors: Richard Crossman (1970-72), who tried to edit it at the same time as playing a major role in Labour politics; Anthony Howard (1972-78), whose recruits to the paper included Christopher Hitchens, Martin Amis and James Fenton (surprisingly, the arch anti-Socialist Auberon Waugh was writing for the Statesman at this time before returning to his more natural home of The Spectator); Bruce Page (1978-82), who turned it into a specialist in investigative journalism and sacked Arthur Marshall, who had been writing for the Statesman on and off since 1935, as a columnist, allegedly because of the latter's support for Margaret Thatcher; Hugh Stephenson (1982-86), under whom it took a strong position again for unilateral nuclear disarmament; John Lloyd (1986-87), who swung the paper's politics back to the centre; Stuart Weir (1987-90), under whose editorship the Statesman founded the Charter 88 constitutional reform pressure group; and Steve Platt (1990-96). By 1996 it was selling 23,000 copies a week.

The Statesman acquired the weekly New Society in 1988 and merged with it, becoming New Statesman and Society for the next eight years. In 1993, the Statesman was sued by the prime minister, John Major, after it published an article that discussed rumours that he was having an extramarital affair with a cook. Although the action was settled out of court for a minimal sum, the paper's legal costs came close to bankrupting it.

The past decade

The Statesman was rescued by a takeover by the businessman Philip Jeffrey but in 1996, after prolonged boardroom wrangling over Jeffrey's plans, it was sold to Geoffrey Robinson, the Labour MP and businessman. He fired Platt, and appointed Ian Hargreaves as editor, who in turn fired most of the left-wingers on the staff and turned the Statesman into a strong supporter of Tony Blair as Labour leader. Hargreaves was succeeded by Peter Wilby in 1998, who moved the paper back to the left. John Kampfner, Wilby's political editor, succeded him as editor in May 2005. The Statesman currently sells some 24,000 copies a week.


  • Hyams, Edward. The New Statesman: the history of the first fifty years 1913-63. Longman. 1963.
  • Rolph, C. H. Kingsley: the life, letters and diaries of Kingsley Martin. Victor Gollancz. 1973. ISBN 0-575-01636-1
  • Howe, Stephen. Lines of Dissent: writing from the New Statesman 1913 to 1988. Verso. 1988. ISBN 09-86091-207-8
  • Smith, Adrian. The New Statesman: portrait of a political weekly. Frank Cass.1996. ISBN 0-7146-4645-8

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