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.

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Leader: Theresa May and the resurgence of the state

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years.

Theresa May entered office in more tumultuous circumstances than any other prime minister since 1945. The UK’s vote to leave the European Union was a remarkable rebuke to the political and business establishment and an outcome for which few had prepared. Mrs May recognised that the result was more than a revolt against Brussels. It reflected a deeper alienation and discontent. Britain’s inequalities of wealth and opportunity, its regional imbalances and its distrusted political class all contributed to the Remain campaign’s ­defeat. As she said in her speech in Birmingham on 11 July: “Make no mistake, the referendum was a vote to leave the European Union, but it was also a vote for serious change.”

When the financial crisis struck in 2007-2008, David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, was caught out. His optimistic, liberal Conservative vision, predicated on permanent economic growth, was ill-suited to recession and his embrace of austerity tainted his “modernising” project. From that moment, the purpose of his premiership was never clear. At times, austerity was presented as an act of pragmatic bookkeeping; at others, as a quest to shrink the state permanently.

By contrast, although Mrs May cautiously supported Remain, the Leave vote reinforced, rather than contradicted, her world-view. As long ago as March 2013, in the speech that signalled her leadership ambitions, she spoke of the need to confront “vested interests in the private sector” and embrace “a more strategic role” for the state. Mrs May has long insisted on the need to limit free movement of people within the ­European Union, and anticipated the causes of the Leave vote. The referendum result made the national reckoning that she had desired inevitable.

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years. She has promised worker representation on company boards, binding shareholder votes on executive pay, improved corporate governance and stricter controls on foreign takeovers.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has set the ­Labour Party on a similar course, stating in his conference speech that the “winds of globalisation” are “blowing against the belief in the free market and in favour of intervention”. He pointedly criticised governments which did not try to save their domestic steel industries as China dumped cheap steel on to global markets.

We welcome this new mood in politics. As John Gray wrote in our “New Times” special issue last week, by reasserting the role of the state as the final guarantor of social ­cohesion, Mrs May “has broken with the neoliberal model that has ruled British politics since the 1980s”.

The Prime Minister has avoided the hyperactive style of many new leaders, but she has deviated from David Cameron’s agenda in several crucial respects. The target of a national Budget surplus by 2020 was rightly jettisoned (although Mrs May has emphasised her commitment to “living within our means”). Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement on 23 November will be the first test of the government’s ­fiscal boldness. Historically low borrowing costs have strengthened the pre-existing case for infrastructure investment to support growth and spread prosperity.

The greatest political ­challenge facing Mrs May is to manage the divisions within her party. She and her government must maintain adequate access to the European single market, while also gaining meaningful control of immigration. Her statist economic leanings are already being resisted by the free-market fundamentalists on her benches. Like all prime ministers, Mrs May must balance the desire for clarity with the need for unity.

“Brexit means Brexit,” she has repeatedly stated, underlining her commitment to end the UK’s 43-year European
affair. If Mrs May is to be a successful and even transformative prime minister, she must also prove that “serious change” means serious change and a determination to create a society that does not only benefit the fortunate few. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories