In this week's NS: Evgeny Lebedev profile

The owner of the <em>Independent</em> and <em>Evening Standard</em> speaks to the <em>NS</em> about

In this week's New Statesman, the owner of the Independent titles and the London Evening Standard, Evgeny Lebedev, speaks to Sophie Elmhirst about why he admires David Cameron, why he is on the lookout for another newspaper to buy, and why his father, Alexander Lebedev, is considering legal action against the Guardian. Elmhirst writes:

According to an interview in the Guardian, his father hinted that the Independent's editor-in-chief, Simon Kelner, might be replaced and some staff made redundant. He was reported to have said that he found the newspaper "a bit boring" and that he was more entertained by the Daily Mail. Evgeny, when we speak on the phone the day after the interview is published, is unimpressed; he says the report was based on an off-the-record conversation and that his father's comments were taken out of context. "That is not ethical journalism," he argues. His father is now considering legal action against the Guardian.

Despite owning all three Independent titles and the Evening Standard, he seems anxious to expand his print portfolio.

In the context of the newspaper industry's struggles and experiments, Lebedev is proud of his success at the Standard. Will he be buying more titles? He smiles. "I can't really tell you that. It depends what comes up - if an interesting opportunity comes up, I'll always look at it."

The Independent may take a critical line on the Conservative-led coalition government, but its owner admits that he is an admirer of David Cameron. Elmhirst writes:

[Lebedev] also makes a point of forging political relationships and has met David Cameron, whom he professes to admire. "I think he will prove to be a great prime minister. He's confident, he makes decisions."

With mayoral elections looming, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, also confesses to being a fan of London's main evening paper and its proprietor.

"I am proud to call him a friend and a Londoner," gushes Boris Johnson, when asked for his thoughts on Lebedev. "This great city of ours would be a lot poorer without him and the vibrant, creative Russian community who contribute so much."

To read the profile in full, pick up a copy of this week's New Statesman, available on news-stands from tomorrow, or subscribe to the magazine.

David Cameron speaks at a press conference following an EU summit in Brussels. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron's EU concessions show that he wants to avoid an illegitimate victory

The Prime Minister is confident of winning but doesn't want the result to be open to challenge. 

Jeremy Corbyn's remarkable surge has distracted attention from what will be the biggest political event of the next 18 months: the EU referendum. But as the new political season begins, it is returning to prominence. In quick succession, two significant changes have been made to the vote, which must be held before the end of 2017 and which most expect next year.

When the Electoral Commission yesterday recommended that the question be changed from “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” ("Yes"/"No") to "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?" ("Leave"/"Remain"), No.10 immediately gave way. The Commission had warned that "Whilst voters understood the question in the Bill some campaigners and members of the public feel the wording is not balanced and there was a perception of bias." 

Today, the government will table amendments which reverse its previous refusal to impose a period of "purdah" during the referendum. This would have allowed government departments to continue to publish promotional material relating to the EU throughout the voting period. But after a rebellion by 27 Tory eurosceptics (only Labour's abstention prevented a defeat), ministers have agreed to impose neutrality (with some exemptions for essential business). No taxpayers' money will be spent on ads or mailshots that cast the EU in a positive light. The public accounts commitee had warned that the reverse position would "cast a shadow of doubt over the propriety" of the referendum.

Both changes, then, have one thing in common: David Cameron's desire for the result to be seen as legitimate and unquestionable. The Prime Minister is confident of winning the vote but recognises the danger that his opponents could frame this outcome as "rigged" or "stitched-up". By acceding to their demands, he has made it far harder for them to do so. More concessions are likely to follow. Cameron has yet to agree to allow Conservative ministers to campaign against EU membership (as Harold Wilson did in 1975). Most Tory MPs, however, expect him to do so. He will be mocked and derided as "weak" for doing so. But if the PM can secure a lasting settlement, one that is regarded as legitimate and definitive, it will be more than worth it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.