The Standard's decision to go free will spook the nationals

Lebedev's contrarian move has caught the nationals off guard

Alexander Lebedev's decision to transform the London Evening Standard into a free newspaper from 12 October is certainly a contrarian one. It comes at a time when significant sections of the industry, notably Rupert Murdoch's News International and the Financial Times, are determined to develop new forms of paid-for journalism and shortly after the closure of one of the Standard's free-sheet rivals, the London Paper.

With London Lite, whose whole raison d'être was to take on Murdoch's London Paper, poised to suffer an early death, it was thought the Standard would be free to recoup the readers and advertisers who had migrated elsewhere. Instead, the Russian oligarch has surprised us all.

Lebedev's willingess to forgo £15m worth of income from the cover price is based on the optimistic assumption that ad revenue will eventually return to previous heights. The decision to increase the paper's distribution from 250,000 to 600,000 copies a day will assist this cause but it remains an unreliable gamble.

Yet the implications of the Standard's decision stretch far beyond the London market. If the paper maintains something close to its present quality it is likely that many readers will abandon their national titles of choice. Lebedev's bold declaration that "the London Evening Standard is the first leading quality newspaper to go free and I am sure others will follow" suggests that the Independent would become a free title if ever he acquired it. A paper with the Standard's history and prestige that is prepared to market itself aggressively represents a potent threat to the future of several national titles.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why the Tories' falling poll lead is believable

Jeremy Corbyn has fought a good campaign, while Theresa May's has been a series of duff notes.

Taxi for Theresa May? The first poll since the Manchester bombing is out and it makes for grim reading in CCHQ.

The numbers that matter: the Conservatives are on 43%, Labour on 38%, the Liberal Democrats are on 10%, while Ukip are way down on 4%. On a uniform swing, far from strengthening her hand, the PM would be back in office with a majority of just two.

Frankly a PM who has left so many big hitters in her own party out in the cold is not going to last very long if that result is borne out on 8 June. But is it right?

The usual caveats apply - it's just one poll, you'd expect Labour to underperform its poll rating at this point, a danger that is heightened because much of the party's surge is from previous non-voters who are now saying they will vote for Jeremy Corbyn. There's a but coming, and it's a big one: the numbers make a lot of sense.

Jeremy Corbyn has fought a good campaign and he's unveiled a series of crowd-pleasing policies. The photographs and clips of him on the campaign trail look good and the party's messaging has been well-honed for television and radio. And that's being seen in the Labour leader's popularity ratings, which have risen throughout the campaign.

Theresa May's campaign, however, has been a series of duff notes that could have been almost designed to scare off voters. There was the biggie that was the social care blunder, of course. But don't underestimate the impact that May's very public support for bringing back fox-hunting had on socially liberal Conservative considerers, or the impact that going soft on banning the sale of ivory has in a nation of animal-lovers. Her biography and style might make her more appealing to floating voters than David Cameron's did, but she has none of his instinctive sense of what it is that people dislike about the Tory party - and as a result much of her message has been a series of signals to floating voters that the Tory party isn't for them.

Add that to the fact that wages are falling - no governing party has ever increased its strength in the Commons in a year when that has been the case - and the deterioration of the public realm, and the question becomes: why wouldn't Labour be pulling into contention?

At the start of the campaign, the Conservatives thought that they had two insurance policies: the first was Jeremy Corbyn, and the second was May's purple firewall: the padding of her lead with voters who backed Ukip in 2015 but supported the Conservatives in the local elections. You wouldn't bet that the first of those policies hadn't been mis-sold at this point. Much now hinges on the viability of the second.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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