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George Eaton appointed New Statesman political editor

Editor of The Staggers blog replaces Rafael Behr, who joins the Guardian as a political columnist. 

George Eaton is to succeed Rafael Behr as political editor of the New Statesman. Behr will be leaving the NS next month to join the Guardian as a political columnist. 

 

Eaton, the award-winning editor of the magazine’s rolling politics blog, The Staggers, joined the New Statesman in March 2009 as a graduate trainee, having previously worked at PoliticsHome. He has contributed hugely to the successful transformation of newstatesman.com and to the revitalisation of the magazine. He has had a series of impressive scoops over the past year, with agenda-setting stories and interviews with Len McCluskey of Unite, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and others. Under Eaton’s editorship, The Staggers won the Editorial Intelligence Best Online Comment Site award in 2013.

 

The New Statesman editor, Jason Cowley, said: “George, who has been with me almost from the start of my editorship, is one of the outstanding journalistic talents of his generation and is one of the most gifted people I have ever worked with. He is both an incisive political commentator and a tenacious and instinctive story-getter.”

 

Eaton assumes his new role as the New Statesman celebrates its strongest growth in decades. In 2013, its centenary year, magazine subscriptions grew by 20 per cent and news-stand sales by 14 per cent; record online traffic made newstatesman.com the biggest political website in Britain. As circulation continues to rise and the magazine moves into profit, the editorial team is entering an exciting phase of expansion and development. The launch of a series of high-profile digital projects will be announced shortly.

 

Eaton said: “It is a privilege to take on this position at the most exciting and unpredictable moment in British politics for a generation. I look forward to maintaining and enhancing the New Statesman’s reputation for intellectual rigour, breaking news and political insight.”

 

Rafael Behr joined the New Statesman in June 2011 from the Observer, where he was chief leader writer. Commenting on his departure, Cowley said: “I knew Rafael from my time on the Observer. I knew, too, that the elegance of his writing, as well as his shrewd and nuanced political insights, would make the New Statesman’s weekly Westminster column a compelling read. Three years on, Rafael has established a reputation as one of Britain’s most authoritative political commentators and played an important part in transforming the fortunes of this great magazine. We shall miss him and he leaves with my best wishes.”

 

Behr said: “The New Statesman occupies a very special place in British politics, media, history and culture. It has been a privilege to work with the immensely talented team that has made it, without doubt, the liveliest, smartest and most creative weekly magazine covering politics in Britain today.”

 

For more information, please contact Anya Matthews on 07815 634 396 or anya.matthews@newstatesman.co.uk

DebateTech
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Politicians: it's no longer OK to know nothing about technology

It’s bad enough to joke about not being "techy"; it's worse to write a piece of legislation from a position of ignorance. 

Earlier this week, facing down a 600-strong battalion of London’s tech sector at a mayoral hustings in Stratford, Zac Goldsmith opened his five minute pitch with his characteristic charm. “I’m not very techy!” he exclaimed. “I understand coding about as well as Swahili!”

Pointless jibe at a foreign language aside, this was an ill-chosen way to begin his address - especially considering that the rest of his speech showed he was reasonably well-briefed on the problems facing the sector, and the solutions (including improving broadband speeds and devolving skills budgets) which could help.

But the offhand reference to his own ignorance, and the implication that it would be seen as attractive by this particular audience, implies that Goldsmith, and other politicians like him, haven’t moved on since the 90s. The comment seemed designed to say: “Oh, I don't know about that - I'll leave it to the geeks like you!"

This is bad enough from a mayoral hopeful.  But on the same day, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament filed its report on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, the legislation drafted by the Home Office which will define how and how far the government and secret services can pry into our digital communications. Throughout, there's the sense that the ISC doesn't think the MPs behind the bill had a firm grasp on the issues at hand. Words like "inconsistent" and "lacking in clarity" pop up again and again. In one section, the authors note:

"While the issues under consideration are undoubtedly complex, we are nevertheless concerned that thus far the Government has missed the opportunity to provide the clarity and assurance which is badly needed."

The report joins criticism from other directions, including those raised by Internet Service Providers last year, that the bill's writers didn't appear to know much about digital communications at all, much less the issues surrounding encryption of personal messages.

One good example: the bill calls for the collection of "internet connection records", the digital equivalent of phone call records, which show the domains visited by internet users but not their content. But it turns out these records don't exist in this form: the bill actually invented both the phrase and the concept. As one provider commented at the time, anyone in favour of their collection "do not understand how the Internet works". 

Politicians have a long and colourful history of taking on topics - even ministerial posts - in fields they know little to nothing about. This, in itself, is a problem. But politicians themselves are often the people extolling importance of technology, especially to the British economy - which makes their own lack of knowledge particularly grating. No politician would feel comfortable admitting a lack of knowledge, on, say, economics. I can’t imagine Goldsmith guffawing "Oh, the deficit?  That's all Greek to me!"  over dinner with Cameron. 

The mayoral candidates on stage at the DebateTech hustings this week were eager to agree that tech is London’s fastest growing industry, but could do little more than bleat the words “tech hub” with fear in their eyes that someone might ask them what exactly that meant. (A notable exception was Green candidate Sian Berry, who has actually worked for a tech start-up.) It was telling that all were particularly keen on improving internet speeds -  probably because this is something they do have day-to-day engagement with. Just don't ask them how to go about doing it.

The existence of organisations like Tech London Advocates, the industry group which co-organised the hustings, is important, and can go some way towards educating the future mayor on the issues the industry faces. But the technology and information sectors have been responsible for 30 per cent of job growth in the capital since 2009 - we can't afford to have a mayor who blanches at the mention of code. 

If we’re to believe the politicians themselves, with all their talk of coding camps and skills incubators and teaching the elderly to email, we need a political sphere where boasting that you're not "techy" isn’t cool or funny - it’s just kind of embarrassing. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.