Alan Rusbridge arrives at Portcullis House to face questions from the Home Affairs Committee on December 3, 2013 in London, England. Photo: Getty Images
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Alan Rusbridger stepping down as Guardian editor-in-chief

Longstanding head stands down.

Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian for the last 20 years, has announced he will be stepping down from next year:

Rusbridger has overseen the Guardian's growth from a mid-level British broadsheet into an international brand, and arguably the most prominent and influential English-language newspaper in the world after the New York Times.

His successor is likely to come from within the company, with contenders such as Janine Gibson (editor-in-chief of and Katherine Viner (editor-in-chief of Guardian US) being touted by insiders. We have taken a look at the runners and riders.  

Alan Rusbridger’s full email to staff:

Dear all,

This is to let you know that next summer I will be stepping down as editor-in-chief of the Guardian before succeeding Liz Forgan as Chair of The Scott Trust when she reaches the end of her term in 2016.

In February I’ll have been editor for 20 years. It’s been quite an extraordinary period in the life of the Guardian. In February 1995 newspaper websites were, if they existed at all, exotic things: we were still four years off launching Guardian Unlimited. Since 1999 we’ve grown to overtake all others to become the most-read serious English language digital newspaper in the world.

When I assumed the editorship in 1995, the senior team at the Guardian was debating whether we should switch to using colour photography in the paper. (There were quite a few distinguished voices believing black and white was the proper métier for news.) Today we are doing our journalism in words, (colour!) pictures, video, data, animation, audio; on mobile and other platforms and in social … and every possible combination of the above.

The past two decades have been marked out by wonderful Guardian writing, photography, innovation and editing. There have been gruelling court battles, dogged campaigns and tough investigations. The Guardian – always the outsider – has won a global reputation for its willingness to fight for the right causes. We have strong future leaders in place with unparalleled news and digital experience. We have built up – and banked – a considerable financial endowment to secure future innovation and build on our quality journalism. The GMG Board is prepared to invest significantly in what we do because of the extraordinarily strong global position for which we (editorial, commercial and digital together) have fought and won.

Each editor is told – this is literally the only instruction – to carry the Guardian on “as heretofore”. That means understanding the spirit, culture and purpose of the paper and interpreting it for the present. All that is only possible because of the unique Scott Trust, set up in 1936 to ensure the Guardian survives in perpetuity.

Since 1936 the Trust has always appointed a chair from within – in every case a member of the Scott family or a former Guardian journalist or editor. I’ve felt very lucky to have Hugo Young and Liz Forgan beside me and/or guarding my back. The Trust is one of the most important liberal institutions in the world and I was very honoured to be asked to succeed Liz as Chair when she steps down in 2016.

But the best thing about working here – the thing I’ll miss most – are my colleagues. We are a team and the strongest of communities – one which includes our readers. The community includes people from all areas, in and outside editorial. The Guardian and The Observer are bursting with extraordinarily bright, talented, brave, kind, knowledgeable, resourceful, imaginative, thoughtful and delightful people. I know our journalism – and our “perpetuity” – will be in the best possible hands.

I am currently visiting the Guardian Australia team in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra – another amazing Guardian success story – but I will be back in Kings Place on Monday and will talk to you then.

I'm a mole, innit.

David Young
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The Tories are the zombie party: with an ageing, falling membership, still they stagger on to victory

One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.”

All football clubs have “ultras” – and, increasingly, political parties do, too: although, in the case of political parties, their loudest and angriest supporters are mostly found on the internet. The SNP got there first: in the early days of email, journalists at the Scotsman used to receive bilious missives complaining about its coverage – or, on occasion, lack of coverage – of what the Scottish National Party was up to. The rest soon followed, with Ukip, the Labour Party and even the crushed Liberal Democrats now boasting a furious electronic horde.

The exception is the Conservative Party. Britain’s table-topping team might have its first majority in 18 years and is widely expected in Westminster to remain in power for another decade. But it doesn’t have any fans. The party’s conference in Manchester, like Labour’s in Brighton, will be full to bursting. But where the Labour shindig is chock-full of members, trade unionists and hangers-on from the charitable sector, the Conservative gathering is a more corporate affair: at the fringes I attended last year, lobbyists outnumbered members by four to one. At one, the journalist Peter Oborne demanded to know how many people in the room were party members. It was standing room only – but just four people put their hands up.

During Grant Shapps’s stint at Conservative headquarters, serious attempts were made to revive membership. Shapps, a figure who is underrated because of his online blunders, and his co-chair Andrew Feldman were able to reverse some of the decline, but they were running just to stand still. Some of the biggest increases in membership came in urban centres where the Tories are not in contention to win a seat.

All this made the 2015 election win the triumph of a husk. A party with a membership in long-term and perhaps irreversible decline, which in many seats had no activists at all, delivered crushing defeats to its opponents across England and Wales.

Like José Mourinho’s sides, which, he once boasted, won “without the ball”, the Conservatives won without members. In Cumbria the party had no ground campaign and two paper candidates. But letters written by the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, were posted to every household where someone was employed making Trident submarines, warning that their jobs would be under threat under a Labour government. This helped the Tories come close to taking out both Labour MPs, John Woodcock in Barrow and Furness and Jamie Reed in Copeland. It was no small feat: Labour has held Barrow since 1992 and has won Copeland at every election it has fought.

The Tories have become the zombies of British politics: still moving though dead from the neck down. And not only moving, but thriving. One Labour MP in Brighton spotted a baby in a red Babygro and said to me: “There’s our next [Labour] prime minister.” His Conservative counterparts also believe that their rivals are out of power for at least a decade.

Yet there are more threats to the zombie Tories than commonly believed. The European referendum will cause endless trouble for their whips over the coming years. And for all there’s a spring in the Conservative step at the moment, the party has a majority of only 12 in the Commons. Parliamentary defeats could easily become commonplace. But now that Labour has elected Jeremy Corbyn – either a more consensual or a more chaotic leader than his predecessors, depending on your perspective – division within parties will become a feature, rather than a quirk, at Westminster. There will be “splits” aplenty on both sides of the House.

The bigger threat to Tory hegemony is the spending cuts to come, and the still vulnerable state of the British economy. In the last parliament, George Osborne’s cuts fell predominantly on the poorest and those working in the public sector. They were accompanied by an extravagant outlay to affluent retirees. As my colleague Helen Lewis wrote last week, over the next five years, cuts will fall on the sharp-elbowed middle classes, not just the vulnerable. Reductions in tax credits, so popular among voters in the abstract, may prove just as toxic as the poll tax and the abolition of the 10p bottom income-tax rate – both of which were popular until they were actually implemented.

Added to that, the British economy has what the economist Stephen King calls “the Titanic problem”: a surplus of icebergs, a deficit of lifeboats. Many of the levers used by Gordon Brown and Mervyn King in the last recession are not available to David Cameron and the chief of the Bank of England, Mark Carney: debt-funded fiscal stimulus is off the table because the public finances are already in the red. Interest rates are already at rock bottom.

Yet against that grim backdrop, the Conservatives retain the two trump cards that allowed them to win in May: questions about Labour’s economic competence, and the personal allure of David Cameron. The public is still convinced that the cuts are the result of “the mess” left by Labour, however unfair that charge may be. If a second crisis strikes, it could still be the Tories who feel the benefit, if they can convince voters that the poor state of the finances is still the result of New Labour excess rather than Cameroon failure.

As for Cameron, in 2015 it was his lead over Ed Miliband as Britons’ preferred prime minister that helped the Conservatives over the line. This time, it is his withdrawal from politics which could hand the Tories a victory even if the economy tanks or cuts become widely unpopular. He could absorb the hatred for the failures and the U-turns, and then hand over to a fresher face. Nicky Morgan or a Sajid Javid, say, could yet repeat John Major’s trick in 1992, breathing life into a seemingly doomed Conservative project. For Labour, the Tory zombie remains frustratingly lively. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide