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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