Why is Andrew Neil so keen to bash the New Statesman?

Spectator chairman uses his "impartial" BBC platform to denigrate a commercial rival.

During an interview with Harriet Harman on today's edition of BBC2's Daily Politics, presenter Andrew Neil took a snide swipe at the New Statesman, asking the Labour deputy leader: "What’s the logic of saying that the online site of the New Statesman should come within this regulation, a site which has no great influence in Westminster, but that Guido Fawkes, probably the most influential site in Westminster, should not?" Is this the same Mr Neil who last year expressed a wish to buy the New Statesman, only to be rebuffed?

But then Neil is hardly a disinterested party. He is currently chairman (formerly chief executive) of Press Holdings, the company that owns the Spectator magazine, so perhaps it's not surprising that his usually forensic mind let him down on this occasion. Based on the most recently published figures, the Spectator website, which includes Guido Fawkes blogger Harry Cole as a contributing editor, attracted just 380,000 users a month in 2011. By comparison, between 1 and 7 December - a single week - the NS site had 229,472 unique browsers and 594,710 page views, and between 1 and 30 November received over a million uniques - twice the traffic recorded by the Spectator. 

If Neil wants to use his BBC platform to disparage the New Statesman website, he should at least declare his interest in doing so. We'll be keeping an eye on you, Andrew! 

BBC presenter and chairman of Spectator owner Press Holdings Andrew Neil.
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

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