The New Statesman was created in 1913 with the aim of permeating the educated and influential classes with socialist ideas. Its founders were Sidney and Beatrice Webb (later Lord and Lady Passfield), along with Bernard Shaw, and a small but influential group of Fabians. The Webbs' previous publication, The Crusade, had existed to gain support for the Minority Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law, and for Beatrice Webb's National Committee for the Prevention of Destitution. However, it had died after less than two years, when it became obvious that no government would swallow the Minority Report whole, with all its socialist implications. The New Statesman was created to fill the gap.
The Webbs talked, argued, wrote letters and discussed the project with their friends incessantly. They eventually raised £5,000: £1,000 each from Bernard Shaw, Edward Whitley, Henry Harben and Ernest Simon, the balance in smaller sums. Clifford Sharp, who had edited The Crusade, was appointed Editor. The name Statesman was proposed, but this was already the name of India's largest English language newspaper; as an alternative, the Tory ex-Prime Minister Arthur Balfour suggested the New Statesman, and the magazine was first published on 12 April 1913, with a pre-publication subscription list of 2,300 - and all the auguries against it.
From the first issue, the magazine's tone of didactic and brisk common sense was set. Whether in pointing out that the weak are not always and automatically the virtuous in international politics, or advocating the advance booking of all theatre seats, the note was one of brass-tacks and no nonsense - in contrast with the high moral tone of the rival Nation. Sharp himself wrote:
"We did not merely profess to have no political affiliations, we had none. We were soon to discover, however, that a great many people who profess to admire independent political thought are apt to be both puzzled and shocked when they come across it."
Sixteen months after the magazine's first issue, Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated and Europe plunged into war. A year later, with sales of 3,000 copies a week, the magazine was second in circulation only to the Spectator among the sixpenny weeklies and, in spite of continually upsetting everyone in turn throughout the war years, it emerged with a circulation of 6,000 and its influence immeasurably enhanced.
By 1931, with the appointment of a new Editor, Kingsley Martin, the New Statesman was in a position to take over one of its main competitors among the political and literary weeklies: Nation and Athenaeum. The history of the Athenaeum went back as far as 1828. It had a tradition of attracting the very best writers of the age; in the early twentieth century, the Athenaeum could boast such 'star' writers as Max Beerbohm, Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, Robert Graves, Edith Sitwell, T S Eliot, Edmund Blunden and Julian Huxley.
However, in 1921, with falling circulation, the Athenaeum was incorporated into the Nation. The younger magazine was also attracting writers of great renown: H N Brailsford, J A Hobson, Harold Laski, Leonard Woolf, David Garnett, G D H Cole and almost all the Bloomsbury Set. For fourteen years, the Nation's brand of Liberal radicalism flourished. It soon became obvious, however, that it could not continue as an independent competitor to the more left-wing New Statesman, whose growth was contributing to the other publication's demise. Thus, on 28 February 1931, the first number of New Statesman and Nation (incorporating Athenaeum) was published.
A further title was acquired two years later. The Weekend Review had been established in March 1930 - not a propitious time for founding any enterprise - financed by Samuel Courtauld and edited by Gerald Barry. By 1933, the going was getting increasingly tough for weekly reviews, and its sales of were insufficient to achieve financial viability. After some cliff-hanging negotiations, the New Statesman acquired another title for its masthead - and the famous "This England" and "Weekend Competition" features. The New Statesman and Nation (incorporating The Weekend Review) first appeared on 6 January 1934. It was during this period that, under Martin's editorship, the magazine is generally felt to have had its first golden age, with its circulation peaking at almost 100,000 around 1959.
The Nation suffix was dropped on 6 July 1957, and The Weekend Review on 6 November 1964. Apart from one or two still popular features, the only remaining trace of the New Statesman's tributaries was in the imprint on the contents page where their names are listed; this note has since been moved to the classified pages at the back of the magazine.
Editors since Martin's departure have included: John Freeman, one time Labour minister and television presenter and later a British Ambassador to Washington; Richard Crossman, who had been Secretary of State for Social Services in the first Wilson cabinet; and Bruce Page, an Australian born farmer and Sunday Times journalist who tried to make the magazine a leader in hard-nosed investigative reporting.
On 10 June 1988, as the magazine celebrated its 75th anniversary, New Statesman merged with New Society, a magazine covering the field of the social sciences, to form the New Statesman and Society. (The suffix was dropped in 1996). However, despite the merger generally being seen as a takeover by the New Statesman, the first two editors of the combined magazine, Stuart Weir and Steve Platt, both came from the editorial team of the New Society. Another title, Marxism Today, was acquired in December 1991.
New Statesman Online first went live in November 1998, with vote and comment facilities that allowed people across the globe to discuss the issues considered in the magazine. It subsequently introduced a subscriber only service and an exact electronic edition of the magazine available to download hot-off-the-press anywhere in the world.
Relaunched on 30 November 2006, newstatesman.com has forged its own identity carrying a raft of original content including blogs, articles and columns - as well as everything we publish in the magazine. The website has facilitated not just a new generation of readers, but a readership that stretches around the world. New Statesman online and weekly magazine further the original aims of Beatrice and Sidney Webb. Irreverent, beautifully written and witty, the New Statesman remains the essential read for bright thinkers everywhere.
* Sharp was technically editor from 1913-31, but because of his alcoholism Mostyn Lloyd covered for him from 1928-31. J C Squire, the NS literary editor, was acting editor while Sharp was absent on wartime duties (1917-20).
**Acting (February to September)
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