Happy Christmas from this shark, which is less likely to bite you than Luis Suarez, but is admittedly less good at football. Photo: Getty
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Merry Christmas to all our readers (and some nerdy news and stats about this website)

In the year the NS launched two new sites, and hired several new faces, here's what else has been happening behind the scenes at NS towers.

Well, here I am, wearing my fingerless gloves at my wooden desk in New Statesman towers, scratching this out by the light of a tallow candle. It's Christmas Eve, and we're about to pull down the shutters on the New Statesman website for the next two days while we argue with our families over who was the best Doctor and which is the worst rail franchise (David Tennant and First Great Western, obviously). We'll be back on 27 December. In the meantime, a few announcements and nerdy statistics to tide you over:

 

New sites

This year has been all about expansion: we've launched our sister sites Citymetric.com, helmed by Jonn Elledge and Barbara Speed; and May2015.com, edited by Harry Lambert. If you haven't seen either of them before, why not start with their most popular pieces of 2014: Citymetric's analysis of the problems with Google's driverless cars and May2015's investigation into whether opinion polls are over-estimating the SNP's chances of taking seats off Labour.

As part of May2015, we've launched "The 650" in print and online: yes, our writers are Leaving The Office (gasp) and getting around the country to some of the most interesting constituencies. Here's Anoosh Chakelian in Bristol West, which is the Greens' big hope next year, and Tim Wigmore in Great Grimsby, the former Labour heartland that's flirting with Ukip.

For super-nerds, May2015 has some great polling tools that you can play with: The Drilldown uses data from GQRR which allows you to segment voters by age, class, gender and affiliation. Harry is also updating his "poll of polls" with every new survey that comes out (it's currently predicting a hung parliament). 

 

The future of NewStatesman.com

Now that we have our new sites up and running, attention turns back to the behemoth that is the New Statesman website itself. You might have noticed a few cosmetic changes this year (like a mobile-friendly article page) but next year will see a much larger overhaul. We've been thinking hard about the type of publication we are, and what our readers want, and we hope to have a few tricks up our sleeve.

One of our aims will be to integrate our ads better into our design: the advertising team (and the wonderful Cameron Sharpe, author of our twice-weekly newsletter) have worked hard this year to balance profitability and readability, but there is always more to be done. The news that the advertising industry is moving to metrics other than simple page impressions (like engagement and viewability) is good news for readers, as it disincentivises a "race to the bottom" by plastering a site with as many ads as possible.

Over the last few years, one of the lessons has been that the website doesn't undercut the magazine: in fact, magazine subscriptions and news-stand sales have risen - unusually in our market - as our website traffic has grown. For the moment, we're sticking to our policy of making all our web-only content freely available, but withholding some magazine articles until the relevant issue is off sale in newsagents. 

You might have noticed that fewer articles now carry comments: moderation was proving a large burden on a small team, so we've decided to keep the conversations focused on specific pieces rather than inviting a free-for-all on everything. We've also noticed that as social media has become a bigger part of our readers' lives, on-page comments have decreased: it looks like the conversations about our pieces are happening on Twitter, Facebook and other sites. That's fine by us: social media is a big traffic driver, and we've ended the year with close to 100,000 Twitter followers and 75,000 on Facebook.

 

The nerdy stuff

On the subject of platforms, I agree with Shingy: next year is all about HoMo (that's using your mobile at home). Desktop computers now account for just half of our traffic, and mobiles 35 per cent. In 2012, the year I took over as editor of this website, those figures were 75 per cent and 17 per cent. 

As you'd expect, the UK is the biggest source of our traffic, followed by the US - the first non-English speaking country on the list is Germany, at number five. (Frohe Weihnacht!)

Like most sites, our biggest social referrer is Facebook, followed by Twitter; Reddit is third, StumbleUpon fourth and then - a surprise to me, at least - Disqus is in fifth. While much has been made of Facebook's declining influence due to Mark Zuckerberg turning down the dial on his News dashboard and turning it up on his Adverts and Baby Pictures dashboard, we haven't seen that yet. As a proportion of our social traffic, Facebook has gained importance since 2012 - although perhaps we should attribute this to Ian Steadman's expert Facebook skillz.

You guys love Chrome. It's by far the most popular browser used to access the site. A big shoutout to whoever managed to make their browser show up in our analytics as "MicroHard ScapeGoat Explorigator"; I applaud your commitment to cheap puns.

Equally, chapeau to the 180,000 people who spent more than 1801 seconds reading a single article in 2014. I'm guessing you either left the computer on while you went out, or you were trying to read a Will Self column without a thesaurus. 

Finally, this was our most retweeted tweet. Maths humour is the best humour.

And this was mine.

 

New Statespeople

In the New Year, we have a few staffing changes. Anoosh Chakelian, formerly acting Staggers editor, is now Deputy Web Editor, working with web editor Caroline Crampton to oversee all aspects of digital production and our outside bloggers. Stephen Bush has joined us from the Telegraph as Staggers editor, so he is the first point of contact for anything Westminster. Our new editorial assistant is Anna Leszkiewicz, and our new digital assistant is Stephanie Boland. Ian Steadman remains our science and tech correspondent, and gets the Golden Statuette of Beatrice Webb for writing our most popular article of the year - a very serious statistical investigation of how you are more likely to be bitten by Luis Suarez than a shark. It was a true viral hit* (*everyone else nicked the idea and wrote it up as if it were their own). 

Next year, we will also be hosting two new Wellcome Trust Scholars - an expansion of last year's successful initiative to encourage black and minority ethnic science writers. This year, we have two (paid) placements lasting six months up for grabs. Apply through our partners Creative Access here.

 

Our Top Ten Articles of The Year goes like this:

1. You are more likely to be bitten by Luis Suarez than a shark 

2. Laurie Penny on why patriarchy fears the scissors

3. Harriet Williamson meets the women speaking out about Terry Richardson

4. Laurie Penny on the Isla Vista shootings

5. Will Self on hipster hatred

6. Grayson Perry on Default Man

7. Musa Okwonga on Jeremy Clarkson and the N-word

8. Robin Ince on Christians and public life

9. Ed Smith on London's buried diggers

10. Tony Benn in quotes

This is a top ten that gives me hope for the Future of Journalism, because the uniting factor among all these pieces is this - they are good. Different styles, different targets, but all funny, fresh, angry, insightful pieces of journalism (OK, and one quick aggregation post, but even that relied on George having all the material already in his enormous brain). Many of our top 50 pieces were notable for their length, too: it turns out that the internet hasn't ruined our attention spans quite as much as we feared.

On that positive note, I am retiring to my Egg Nog Bunker to raise a toast to all our wonderful staff, to all our clever, witty, intelligent, beautiful bloggers - and of course, to you, reading this. It's been a great year, but next year is going to be even better. (Except for the bit on election night before any results come in and it's just David Dimbleby and three guests staring hopefully at Jeremy Vine, who is inexplicably dressed as a bear, explaining what Plaid Cymru want in a hung parliament. That bit will probably be just be weird.)

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty Images
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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR