Press Gazette's top 50 comment writers

Print journalists dominate the list of the UK's top commentators.

This month's Press Gazette contains a list of the UK's top 50 comment journalists, rated by the public and a sample of comment journalists.

The top ten is as follows:

1. Matthew Parris, Times
2. Simon Jenkins, Evening Standard, Guardian
3. Jeremy Clarkson, Sunday Times, Sun
4. Quentin Letts, Daily Mail
5. Polly Toynbee, Guardian
6. Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail
7. Charlie Brooker, Guardian
8. Rachel Sylvester, Times
9. Janice Turner, Times
10. Rod Liddle, Sunday Times

What really jumps out about this list is that they're all print journalists, even though both sets of respondents were allowed to name bloggers. In fact, 38.1 per cent of those surveyed (the biggest proportion) said that they preferred reading comment pieces in print.

This is reflected across the whole top 50 -- the only blogger who made it on to the list was Stephen Fry (at number 42), mainly from the public vote.

Jeremy Clarkson was also included by virtue of the popular vote. He was the public's favourite commentator, but received no votes from the panel of journalists. The controversial Clarkson is an increasingly influential media player, ranking 74 on the Guardian's list of top 100 media figures in 2007.

A survey last November by Continental Research suggested his Sun column was the one that consumers would be most willing to pay to read online.

The public's top two were Clarkson and Richard Littlejohn, showing that their taste diverges somewhat from the reasoned comment favoured by the panel of journalists (their top two were Simon Jenkins and Matthew Parris). Perhaps there are lessons to be learned there.

Finally, some shameless self-promotion. Two New Statesman columnists also made it on to on the list -- Steve Richards (31) and Peter Wilby (44).

Press Gazette is owned by Progressive Media, which also owns the New Statesman.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.