As you may have seen both online and in some of the papers today, Alex Ferguson is the front cover of my one-off issue of the New Statesman and inside is a long chat about football, politics, leadership and a fascinating insight into his life and his mind. TV viewers will know that Alex does not open up much to the media these days and I think this captures him more as his friends and colleagues know him – warm, open, expansive and with interesting views on everything from books and parenting to why oh why did he let Jaap Stam go?
The Sun and Times are running extracts this morning but for the whole four thousand words you’ll have to shell out £2.95 for the Statesman. Worth it, in my ‘umble opinion.There are three related video clips to watch if you click on the vlog box here, and a few pictures on Flickr.
Someone posted a question yesterday, asking when I first met Alex, and when I am out and about doing q and a sessions, ‘what’s he really like?’ comes up almost as often as ‘what’s Bush really like?’ and ‘what did you think of the film The Queen?’
I think my very first meeting with him was at a Scotland match, but the first time I really talked to him properly was when I interviewed him for a now defunct magazine called the Labour Party News. A bit like the interview in The Statesman, we covered football and politics mainly. Of course Alex is totally focussed on his job, and on football, but he has always found time for people and causes outside the game.His politics runs deep, as does his interest in history. As anyone who has read The Blair Years will know, he was a regular provider of advice and support, and as we both agree in one of the video clips, in any high pressure situation, you need people outside your own bubble giving a different perspective.
Media reports on the interview have in the main focussed on what he says about Jaap Stam, Rafa Benitez, Arsene Wenger, his dream United team, Gazza, his own retirement plans and his view that the quintuple is mission impossible. Interestingly, the Times had a line on Page 1 on what Ferguson learned about leadership from President Lincoln. As he says in the interview, you can learn from any other walk of life for your own.
I hope the political figures in the magazine – among them Tony Blair on why we should all do God, Sarah Brown doing the diary, Philip Gould reviewing fellow pollster Stan Greenberg’s book, Danny Finkelstein on how the internet is changing politics – won’t be upset by a leader of sport taking front cover precedence in a political magazine.
Analogies with sport are the starting point for my editorial – pointing out Labour can still win the next election, and saying where the game needs to be upped for that to happen. I hope anyone minded to indulge in any ‘post-defeat scenario planning’ will take note. Given all the bad economic news there is, it is amazing the Tories are not doing better. It is in Labour’s hands to close the gap, but it requires better defence of the record, better attack on our opponents, more energy in the setting of the forward policy agenda, the rise of the profile and effectiveness of of younger ministers and the sense of their being a team at work, and an end to any post-defeat positioning by people who ought to now better.
Sticking with politics, Professor Vernon Bogdanor has a piece on how the current crisis for the economy poses opportunities as well as threats for social democracy. Kevin Spacey (one of the best overseas additions to our culture) has written the lead for the arts pages, saying the arts are part of the economic solution rather than a drain on resources.
Mark Bennett, a former member of my Number 10 and election campaign teams, now a Labour councillor and organiser for Go Fourth, has written about learning the right lessons from the Obama campaign, on which he was a volunteer. Again, required reading fo
r Labour. Yes the internet was important but it was something far more old-fashioned that won it for Obama.
Alina Palimaru, a Romanian working and studying in Washington, who regularly comments on Tory policy here and on my Facebook page, has done an analysis of what she sees as their utter hopelessness and asked why Labour is not doing more to unravel them. The magazine’s resident political reporter, James Macintyre, has a piece challenging the assertion that ‘Dave’ has modernised much beyond the ability, unlike Michael Howard, to smile without scaring people away. James’s dad, Don Macintyre of the Independent, writes a letter from Jerusalem.
To anyone who thinks there are too many of my friends in here – now I come to family. The second big read after Fergie is a piece by Fiona Millar (she of the anti AC dishwasher propaganda of earlier blogs) and Melissa Benn about how the private school choices of editors skew their relentlessly negative coverage of state schools. Very good piece (once I had removed a split infinitive with the same delicacy as Fiona re-arranges the dishwasher contents whilst tutting). Fiona is on the Politics Show on BBC today, talking about education, round about the same time as I am doing Jeremy Vine on Radio 2.
More editors responded to my survey of their personal choices than I expected, including Paul Dacre at the Mail, and it makes for a good read and a terrific Martin Rowson cartoon which I’m sure he would sell to Dacre to hang on the walls of his mansion. It has also given me, after Alex, TB, Spacey and Sarah Brown, my final trail for the front page – ‘Paul Dacre – why I love the NHS.’ Given his legendary sense of humour, I’m sure he will get the joke. Alongside it all Mori’s Ben Page shows how the public’s view of the NHS is wildly divorced from the media’s.
Good response to the appeal for single sentences for the manifesto. I have since discussed it with GB who is using the magazine to launch a similar Labour exercise pre the G20. Go to www.labour.org.uk/g20
So what else? Oh lots. As the real editor Jason Cowley dubbed it, I was just the hand that kept giving. Conor Gearty of the LSE, a real expert on civil liberties and human rights, casts a rather more balanced and mature perspective on Henry Porter’s pompously self-styled Convention on Modern Liberty. London-based Aussie journo Paola Totaro asks why do the press have it in for Gordon like they do? My boss in the Time to Change mental health campaign, Hilary Caprani, lambasts the media too – over why they will only cover mental health if there are ‘famous people’ attached. It was not what I expected when I offered her free run on a page for the campaign but it is a good read. Still on media, I asked the TV critic Rachel Cooke to watch 24 hour news for a whole day. I fear I may have damaged her for life. But it is always nice when you commission an idea and it comes back with a few of your own pet hates to the fore.
Amazingly, as I said when recording the vlog about the experience, every article I commissioned more or less came off. It means I have had to leave out a few items which I will press to get into a future edition. I don’t suppose I would get the same return if I did it every week. But I’m not so there’s no need to worry. I hope you enjoy this one. And I hope it helps Jason Cowley’s plans to modernise.
My beef with the media of the left has been that they absorb the propaganda of the right and put it back in a different form. I hope I have shown it is possible to do a magazine of the left, broadly supportive of the party of government, even when in power, and more interesting than the diet of failure and betrayal which for too often is the left media’s analysis of Labour.