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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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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