Tribune reborn?

If the media reports are to be believed, Tribune magazine faces closure after 75 years.

I’ve been a subscriber to Tribune for long enough to have seen repeated financial crises hit it, with a series of bailouts by unions or individuals.

But this time it appears to be a terminal crisis.

This is a great shame. I do not, as regular readers will know, share Tribune’s politics. It’s usually been the propaganda sheet for the party’s Bevanite/Footite soft left, with periods, for instance, under Chris Mullin and Mark Seddon as editors, when it has taken a more explicitly Bennite hard left stance. It has consistently championed CND and unilateral nuclear disarmament, a cause I consider both bonkers and immensely destructive both to the UK’s national security and Labour’s electability.

You would think therefore, that I would be celebrating evidence of the weakening of a rival strand of opinion in the party. But I’m not.

My distress at Tribune’s demise is partly about personal nostalgia. I’ve been a subscriber for about 20 years, since I was in Labour Students, and in the days before blogging gave me an outlet for letting off political steam I used to regularly fire off ‘disgusted of Bristol/Tottenham/Earlsfield/Hackney’ letters to the editor. To Tribune’s credit they always printed them even though they were diametrically opposed to the paper’s editorial line. Tribune arriving through the post on a Friday has been a regular part of my life for decades, with my routine being to turn first to the diary column for often-vicious gossip and humour, then to the party news for insider microanalysis of Labour politics, and finally to the opinion pieces to be exasperated by them.

It’s also a matter of distress to see any publication with a 75-year history fold. Tribune is part of Labour’s collective history and heritage and has played host to writers of the quality of Michael Foot and George Orwell, and campaigns like the call for a second front in the second world war. If it dies, part of our connection to and continuity with our party’s roots will die too.

And it’s a matter of distress if the range of forums for political opinions being published narrows. That’s bad for democracy and free speech both in terms of the national polity and the internal politics of the Labour party. I can see a worrying gap opening up on the soft left of the party, which is where a large slice of Labour opinion sits, with this news following hard on the heels of Compass effectively disengaging from Labour and opening itself up to alliances with the Greens and Lib Dems. It isn’t healthy if there’s a jump in the spectrum of published and organised Labour opinion straight from Progress and Labour First on the right to the residual hard left of CLPD, LRC and Labour Briefing on the left. There are opinions in between and they deserve a forum.

I think that Tribune’s demise as a weekly print publication is inevitable. It’s not a useful format in the age of instant reactive publication and self-publication of opinion on websites and blogs. Too infrequent to keep pace with fast-moving events and be newsworthy, it ends up printing stuff at the end of the week that could have been on the web days earlier. But too frequent and brief in format to get the lengthier, more strategic think-pieces. Email and websites have also killed its once-important function as the only place where aspiring parliamentary candidates could find notification of selection timetables and who the CLP Procedures Secretary to apply to – a role that used to see Tribune’s core leftie readership inflated by several hundred wannabe MPs at the relevant point in each electoral cycle.

It’s not for me to determine Tribune’s future but I’d suggest the title should be kept alive as a monthly paid-for magazine dedicated to longer think-pieces and analysis, with a website to provide realtime Labour news and commentary blog posts, perhaps in conjunction with an existing group blog like LabourList. Neither of these need be expensive to run – there are magazines like Labour Briefing and Chartist that have high production values (if not especially great politics) but are written and produced entirely by volunteers.

I really hope Tribune survives in some form, and I will keep my subscription whatever format it goes forward in, as a loyal reader even if I’m not a supporter of the paper’s politics.

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Luke Akehurst is a constituency representative on Labour’s NEC, a councillor in Hackney, writes regularly for Progress here, and blogs here

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Photo: Tribune Magazine

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Comments: 6...

  1. On October 26, 2011 at 2:32 pm Roy Roebuck responded with... #

    Akehurst is right. Tribune is an important part of polotics. I was the part-time, unpaid, production editor of Forward which vigorously opposed Bevanite foreign policy until, much to the displeasure of most Tribunite contributors, Bevan found sense on the subject and made his “naked into the council chamber” speech in Brighton, thus abandoning unilateral nuclear disarmament. Pity that many of his erstwhile supporters did not.

    Roy Roebuck

    • On October 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm tim f responded with... #

      Bevan did not abandon unilateral nuclear disaramament and his speech in Brighton has been misinterpreted frequently. Neither did he ever particularly strongly advocate unilateral nuclear disarmament to give him a position to abandon. Rather he maintained that he would rather see if it was possible to achieve multilateral disarmament and if not, as a last resort, would support unilateral disarmament. We forget that before the 80s there were more nuanced strands of opinion on nuclear weapons around and the discussion was about how to achieve what we wanted to achieve, rather than only having two camps of opinion in people like Luke and CND supporters entrenched in their own positions mainly focussed on attacking each other as if they were Trot micro-sects.

      On the space vacated by Tribune, I reject the hypothesis that the LRC is not an appropriate home for Bevanites/Footies. I’m a Bevanite, not a Bennite (and not a Footie – he was far too liberal for me although I respect his ability to keep the Labour Party together at a time at which it could have imploded and died with someone else in charge) and of the different groups mentioned by Luke I have most time for the LRC (and least for Compass, which comes over as a self-perpetuating Neal Lawson vanity project and not particularly interested in the Labour Party winning elections). Likewise it’s a little bizarre to claim that Benn was much more left-wing than Bevan – while there were differences, and each’s politics was rooted in their own age (and I vastly prefer Bevan), the differences were not to my mind a question of one being more left-wing than the other – if forced to choose I would say Bevan was more left-wing than Benn.

  2. On October 26, 2011 at 4:29 pm Rohan Mcwilliam responded with... #

    The end of Tribune is a serious matter for Labour and the Left. Its value as a general newspaper is probably limited but it boasts good columnists and is an invaluable guide to what is going on within Labour (full discolosure: I write the odd book review for it). It complements the New Statesman very effectively. It was reasonable to assume that Tribune would play an important role within the renewal of Labour over the next few years. This is also a paper with a very proud past and I always felt privileged to see my writings inside it. We should all hope that something can be done to prevent the paper’s closure.

    Rohan McWilliam

  3. On October 26, 2011 at 8:10 pm Jon Lansman responded with... #

    A warm and generous piece, Luke. You are right to highlight Tribune’s commitment to print letters and articles from those who didn’t agree with its general line. That was always important at Tribune even in what you call the more explicitly Bennite periods when it was edited by Chris Mullin (when I worked there) & Mark Seddon – not that I think the distinction between Foot and Bevan (in the context of the times when they were editors) and the “Bennites” is valid. Oddly enough, tolerance and acceptance of Labour as a broad church are widely held values on the Labour Left. If only they were so widely held values on the Labour Right!

  4. On October 26, 2011 at 10:20 pm Ray Mchale responded with... #

    Yes it will be sad to see the field left to the various careerists and social democrats that populate Progress’ website – with their rich business backers – working to make Labour safe for Capitalism. In a polarised world there is little room for the soft Left. Workers are moving increasingly to an anti-Capitalist stance – because Capitalism isn’t working. The Labour Party and the unions will have to decide whether to go with them, or to stick around with Progress propping up Capitalism. Of course if Labour doesn’t look like it can win power on this basis many of your correspondents will slip off to work for big business – or sink back into their full-time union roles, where they can live comfortably off the subs of the union membership they betray with their articles. Winning the fight for the soul of the Party bureaucrcy is not the same as winning the Party, or the mass of workers.

  5. On October 27, 2011 at 8:31 am Terry Philpot responded with... #

    I think I can claim to outbid Luke Akhurst in my association with Tribune (although, unlike him I did not maintain it). I used to write for it, review books and was even at one time TV critic in the days of Dick Clements as editor and the blessed Douglas Hill as literary editor.

    I have long, long left Tribune behind in my affiliations but it’s death will be a sad one personally and for the
    vibracy of debate on the left.

    On a broader level, I would not be as pessimistic as Luke Akehurst: if (as he claims for the reasons he gives) Tribune could not survive in the age of instant communications and blogging, then, by extension, no paper publication – from Progess to The Times; Spectator to Countrylife – can survive!

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