The changing face of the New Statesman, 1913-2013

Between the covers.

The first issue, dated 12 April, was edited by Clifford Sharp from offices on Great Queen Street, London. It cost sixpence. Articles included the first in the “What is Socialism?” series by the founders, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, as well as “Forcible feeding” and “Stalemate in China”.

The magazine’s design remained largely the same through the 1920s, although by 1928 Charles Mostyn Lloyd was running the magazine day to day because of Sharp’s alcoholism. The literary editor was Desmond MacCarthy and the NS published many pieces by the Bloomsbury set.

In 1931, Kingsley Martin became the editor and the NS merged with the Nation and Athenaeum, whose chairman was John Maynard Keynes. In 1934, Martin published H G Wells’s deferential interview with Stalin; in 1937, he spiked George Orwell’s despatches from the Spanish civil war.

In 1933, the NS also took over the Week-end Review, where the long-running This England feature originated and whose name remained on the masthead through the 1940s. In this issue, from 1942, there are reviews by V S Pritchett and Stephen Spender. The price was still sixpence.

In the 1950s, the cartoons of Vicky (Victor Weisz) graced the front page and the NS was known as a “pantomime horse”, with the cultural pages of the back half read even by those who disagreed with the politics of the front half. The “Nation” joint title was dropped in 1957.

After 30 years as editor, Kingsley Martin was replaced in 1961 by John Freeman. Paul Johnson was editor from 1965-70. The latter began his journey rightward at the NS, objecting to Dr No for its “sadism” and to “the menace of Beatlism”. The price rose in 1964 to a shilling and, in 1969, to 1s/6d.

Under the editorship of Anthony Howard (1972-78), the NS hired young writers such as James Fenton, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes and Christopher Hitchens – but reverted to text-only front covers. When Bruce Page took over in 1978 he used photographs on the cover for the first time.

The cartoonist Ralph Steadman nominates this May 1982 cover as his favourite work for the NS. In 1988, the NS acquired and merged with the weekly New Society, whose name remained on the masthead for eight years. It helped found the Charter 88 movement at its offices in Shoreditch.

Yet another title, Marxism Today, was absorbed in 1991. In 1993, the legal costs of a libel action against the NS by Prime Minister John Major almost forced the paper’s closure. In 1998, the NS was the first periodical to go online; the site now attracts 1.4 million readers each month.

Under Peter Wilby, who was editor until 2005, and John Kampfner (2005-2008), the NS offered strong coverage of 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This period brought a return to bold, photographic covers, and, under Jason Cowley from 2008, a series of successful guest editors.

As the magazine marks its centenary, much has changed. The cover price, once sixpence, is now £3.50; there is full colour throughout; under the art director, Anja Wohlstrom, the covers are a mixture of photography, bespoke illustrations and bold type. And cartoons have returned.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 12 April 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Centenary Special Issue

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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.