Why all good republicans should cheer the victory of OK!

The Archduke of Marzipan, the Count of Westphalianham and other obscure mittel-European royals must be choking on their caviar and gagging on their champagne. Some have probably even taken to wearing black arm-bands. The reason for their distress? Hello!, their bible and the chronicler of their anachronistic lifestyle, has been knocked off its perch. The nobs will still be able to welcome millions into their "lovely homes" (well, the circulation is only 495,349, but, trust me, if you've ever had to wait in a hair salon or a dentist's operating room, you'll know that every copy of the mag has two dozen or more readers pawing it); and they will still be able to read about where Prince William goes clubbing and whom Zara is snogging. But, alas, Hello! is no longer the numero uno among populist rags; OK!, which now boasts a 552,000 circulation, has beaten it.

The news of this publishing phenomenon may not be an earth-shaking statistic for New Statesman readers, but it should be: for the triumph of OK! spells the triumph of republicanism.

I have read Hello! (indeed, I confess, I have written for Hello! - but then so has another NS regular, John Pilger, and what's good enough for John . . . ). Like fairy tales of yore, the magazine tells of vast riches and unparalleled beauties, of extraordinary risks and brave exploits. While feeding its readers this magic, the mag does not ram a moral down our throat. Rather, we are invited to draw our own conclusions about the lives played out before us: Posh may be in love, but why is she so thin? Fergie may be raking in money, but why is she so fat? This hint of clay feet brings the inaccessible to earth. Hello!'s photo-studded pages teem with celebrities of all kinds: television presenters, movie stars, catwalk models. But if the celebs feature, royalty stars. The Windsors, their in-laws, the Borbons, the Bernadottes, the Orange-Nassaus . . . the European dynasties are feted and photographed, their image polished, their elite world celebrated. Last year, 13 covers of the magazine were devoted to royalty.

OK! gave them only two. Hello!'s rival concentrates instead on populist icons - Madonna, Geri Halliwell, Posh and Becks. Well before new Labour had set about dismantling the House of Lords, OK! had turned its back on class and its elitism, championing meritocracy instead. For its editors, the Royle family makes for a more compulsive read than the Royal one, and a hijack survivor is better copy than a pedigreed chump.

What distinguishes its stars from us is not their title but their talent, not the inheritance they boast but the inspiration they can provide. OK!'s republican flavour explains its regulars (gritty career kids such as Patsy Palmer of EastEnders, Zoe Ball and Johnny Vaughan); and extends to its competition ("Win a luxury bathroom with Jif"), which advertises an affordable, everyday product, as well as an utterly ordinary feature of everyday life.

The message is of an inclusive society, whose stake-holders hail from humble backgrounds and aspire to a better lifestyle rather than high-class status. Like a less circumspect Gordon Brown, OK! is redistributing celebrity, so that it is now within the grasp of ordinary folk - so long as they can claim an extraordinary tale, talent or "significant other". How the other half lives seems suddenly reassuringly familiar - despite the helicopter pad in the back yard and the gold taps in the bathroom, the OK! oligarch is one of us, made good.

OK! readers, soaring circulation shows, are subscribing to this vision of a new Britain. They see the Queen et al as superfluous to our way of life, as the Duke of Edinburgh's seal of approval is to the profits of Harrods.

Goodbye, Hello!.We're all OK! now.

This article first appeared in the 21 February 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Just wait for the gold rush to end

Show Hide image

No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.