Diary - Andrew Gowers

I cannot pretend leaving the <em>Financial Times</em> is not a wrench, but you swiftly rediscover wh

It's a funny old world, as someone who fell from high office once said. One of the funnier things is the way that, as our lives grow ever longer, everything else gets shorter. Like the length of time people stay in top jobs: the average tenure of corporate chief executives is down to four years or less. In media-land, life at the top has always tended to be nasty, brutish and short. But even there, the pace is quickening. In the past couple of years, there have been senior departures at the New York Times, LA Times, BBC, Le Monde, even at this distinguished organ: the list goes on. And now the Financial Times and I have parted company. This has attracted a certain amount of attention because the FT has had only five editors since the Second World War, and the last two served ten years or more each.

To which I say: phooey! The days of such long tours are over, and rightly so. The world - and the media especially - is changing at internet speed and the pressures are immense. Those in leadership positions who do not adapt fast enough to change of whatever kind will end up being overtaken by it.

I cannot pretend leaving the FT is not a wrench. The organisation and its journalists have been part - actually, almost all - of my life for the past 22-plus years. The paper and its brand are the most amazing calling cards. Its high-calibre and hard-working journalists probably have access to more people in authority in more countries, continents and fields of endeavour than any other publishing organisation in the world. That access makes the word of the FT more trusted than that of most other newspapers anywhere, whatever Andrew Neil might say.

There, got that off my chest. But lest you think it a puff, I don't think it is. I tried the last bit privately on quite a few of my acquaintances in the worlds of business and politics in recent months, fearing that I'd be accused of hubris. To my surprise, without blinking an eye, every one agreed.

Of course there have been critics. I have no intention of answering them in this space; it would only encourage them. But there is one jibe that has always struck me as sillier than most: that the FT is uncomfortably, even embarrassingly, close to new Labour. I sometimes wondered if those who bandied that around had actually read the paper's editorials over recent years.

So here's where I think the truth lies. First, in 1997 the FT and a good chunk of the British business community were at one in endorsing Labour and in greeting the policies introduced after the election. Second, the FT got more than its share of the inside track courtesy of Labour's spin-doctors. Foul connivance, you may cry: I would counter that it was in the interests of our business readers to know what would be in the Chancellor's next Budget.

Third, as Labour grew old, tired and tetchy, the FT was increasingly critical - as were its business readers, bothered about red tape and policy drift. I know because I wrote this year's election leader. It said, in essence: we're desperate for a plausible alternative because Blair will become a lame duck and we haven't a clue what Brown stands for. It also said that an alternative was not available with Michael Howard as Tory leader. Who knows what the next one will say?

Preparing to join the ranks of the unemployed is a strange business. For one thing, you swiftly rediscover who your friends are. They include a band of people you haven't heard from for ages who have one thing in common: they have at one time or another left their job not entirely voluntarily. Don't worry, they say in e-mails and phone calls: I've been there, I can tell you what it's like, can I buy you lunch? They are, it seems to me, especially wonderful, not least in their insistence that there is life the other side, and in many cases that the experience was the best thing that could have happened to them.

Another experience is that time takes on some kind of fifth dimension - not because you're idle, but because your life is no longer ruled by some highly demanding external force. Your diary is your own: in my case, for the first time in at least 15 years. That is both daunting and exciting. Most of all it means you can rediscover some people you've seen far too little of - the children. Mine are just great: they speak frequently of the delights of having daddy at home. And on Sunday evening, I took seven-year-old Daniel to the premiere of the new Harry Potter film, followed by a happy hour of autograph-hunting, champagne (me) and Coca-Cola (him) at the post-film party. It gave me a warm glow. Call it "Harry Potter and the Last Perk".