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16 February 2022

Diary: My time as the New Statesman’s political editor is over, and I’m shaking up a seven-year routine

Reflecting on my tenure, the greatest joy of working at the NS has been hearing from the kind, funny, thoughtful readers.

By Stephen Bush

I have Doctor Who on the brain a lot at the moment – more so than usual. One reason for this is that Jodie Whittaker’s time in the Tardis is almost up and, like most fans, I am nervously excited to discover who the next Doctor will be.

Another reason is that, like a Doctor at the end of their tenure, I am contemplating my own looming exit from a job I’ve loved: in my case, being political editor of the New Statesman. By the time you read this, I will have completed my regeneration into Andrew Marr – I just hope that I’ve managed to bow out with something light but apposite.

It’s a particularly strange experience being replaced by one of your heroes – a hero with a cameo appearance on Doctor Who, no less – because one  of the things you’re supposed to do during your transition period is show your successor the ropes, which in this instance would be rather redundant. I would ask him to show me, but alas, my new employer, the FT, frowns on industrial espionage.

Drunk and dissolute

The other reason I have Doctor Who on the brain is that Tom Baker, who played the role from 1974 to 1981, gave a stupendous account of his working life to the Times in 1978. It begins with the immortal opener: “You could say that yesterday was fairly typical of a day in my life when we’re not recording Doctor Who. I woke up at 5.15am in a cork-lined room in Soho and then got into bed. But where am I?”

When I gave my notice, the editor, Jason Cowley, asked me to write the diary in my final week. I had originally planned to talk about what I think we’re trying to achieve with our political coverage here at  the NS, but the new fella has already done that perfectly: “to listen intently and explain clearly – and by doing that, to give readers a more convincing map of the way power is working”. So there really is nothing to do but to give an account of how I’ve tried to do this, if not as memorably as Tom Baker did in 1978.

As I woke up one morning

Like an actor leaving a TV show, I know how my exit will play out because I’ve read the script: I will wake up to the sound of Petroc Trelawny on BBC Radio 3’s Breakfast programme. One reason why is that I find the news breaks on music radio a good way of parsing what a story “really” means and how it is being heard: although a lot of people listen to the Today programme, very few of them are genuine swing voters. Another reason is simply that I like music radio and have, over the years, constructed an elaborate series of justifications about why I should be able to start my morning listening to it.

After reading the papers to the sound of classical music, I will write our daily morning newsletter, Morning Call, for the last time. Usually when I start writing I switch from Radio 3 to 6 Music, or to a new record: in recent weeks, I have written mostly to Black Country, New Road’s Ants From Up There, though I think it’s likely that on my last day I will listen to Sea Power’s Everything Was Forever. I’ll file that last newsletter, record my last New Statesman Podcast and that will be that, barring a long lunch and a lot of cocktails.

Talking back

The third reason I prefer to start the day with classical music is that I am not a morning person, and I need the gentle sound of music to jolt me out of my fug. Yet the thing I will miss most of all about my time at the NS is writing Morning Call. Why? In part because putting together an email newsletter is a lot like the joys of putting together a newspaper or a magazine: here is a (sometimes) concise and (occasionally) helpful digest of what you need to know. I sincerely believe that the NS will continue to exist in print and not just in a  digital form, precisely because people enjoy having something curated for them, rather than having to find it themselves on social media or a website.

The main reason I enjoy writing newsletters, though, is that people write back – and New Statesman readers are some of the kindest and most thoughtful people you could meet. These emails have made me laugh, cheered me up and changed my mind: they have been, in general, the greatest joy of my time working here. My only regret is how bad I’ve been at replying to them, particularly in recent weeks, when every kind email makes me feel a deep sadness that I won’t be at the NS to receive them much longer.

Just as fans carry “their” Doctor with them forever (my Doctor is Paul McGann), I will always carry the memory of the many kind messages  from NS readers with me – and, as I await the beginning of my next adventure, I also look forward to joining one of the nicest groups of people around: New Statesman subscribers.

[See also: The past is not a guide to the future, but remembering is still a vital act of defiance]

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This article appears in the 16 Feb 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Edge of War