29 October 2011


Tribune editor Chris McLaughlin has just sent me this:
Staff, management and the National Union of Journalists have agreed a last-minute plan to stave off closure of Tribune. At the end of talks ending Friday evening, it was agreed that the title should become a co-operative. Publisher Kevin McGrath has offered to take on historical debts and release the title "debt free" and told the meeting that he would do everything possible to help the success of the transfer to a co-operative. Terms are to be drafted in time for a full meeting of the Tribune staff, which has to approve the deal, on Monday.
This is good news, but it's going to take a serious recapitalisation of the paper, a great deal of work and a measure of luck to rescue it. Circulation is down to 1,200, which isn't a sustainable level. To get it back to 5,000, which is roughly what it needs to be to generate the sales and advertising income to employ journalists and production staff, it will have to spend a lot on promotion (and do it intelligently).

I don't buy the argument that a democratic left weekly that generates most of its income from selling printed copies is doomed to fail. Tribune's core political stance – socialist, egalitarian, democratic, libertarian – remains as relevant as ever, and it is less marginalised in Labour politics than at any time since the early 1990s. And if it concentrates its efforts on direct debit subscription sales rather than desperately trying to break into newsagents, it has at least a decent chance of re-establishing itself commercially. Subs-based print periodicals can thrive in the internet age, particularly those with a niche market – witness the London Review of Books and Prospect.

But it is going to need money. I've no idea what target for funds the paper will announce next week, but I think that something like £500,000 is what's required. That's rather more than I've got in my piggy bank, but it's not much more than the price of a semi in Neasden – and it's not beyond reach. If 200 people stump up £1,000 and 400 put in £500, there's £400,000 in the kitty, which would be quite enough to make a decent start on reviving the old lady.

27 October 2011


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 28 October 2011

On the face of it, now does not seem a particularly appropriate time for Labour to reassert its pro-European credentials.

The euro zone is in the throes of a giant crisis that it is only beginning to get under control and could yet end in disaster, and the prospects of Britain joining it any time soon are close to non-existent.

Opinion polls show that a majority of Britons would definitely or probably vote to leave the European Union given the chance, and the Tory party is spectacularly split over whether there should be a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the EU. This week, 81 Tory MPs defied the whips to vote for one – the biggest backbench rebellion in any party ever over Europe, dwarving even the revolt by Labour pro-Europeans in favour of British membership of what we then called the Common Market in 1972.

It must be a temptation for Ed Miliband and Ed Balls simply to enjoy David Cameron’s discomfort while tutting at the irresponsibility of a holding a referendum at such a critical time for Europe and emphasising that it was Labour (specifically, their onetime boss Gordon Brown) that decided not to join the euro in the late 1990s.

That is a better line to take than jumping on the Tory Eurosceptic bandwagon to demand a referendum now, as 19 Labour MPs did this week – but it is not a coherent long-term Labour policy on Europe. And, like it or not, the party is going to need one before the next general election.

Of course, there are some very good reasons not to get into too many specifics just yet. The next general election is not due until 2015 – though it might come sooner if Cameron suffers many more rebellions on the scale of this week’s – and no one knows what will happen between now and then.

The eurozone might have as many participating countries as it has today; it might have more or fewer. It might be deep in recession; it might be in the bloom of economic health. The EU might have developed a credible redistributive fiscal regime, or it might not. There might be treaty changes in the offing to amend the EU’s economic policy institutions, or proposals for new decision-making procedures in the Council of Ministers, or plans for extra powers for the European Parliament. And there might be different governments in power – a particularly important possibility in the cases of France and Germany, which face general elections next year and in 2013 respectively.

It is also undoubtedly true that nothing Labour says in opposition is going to make the slightest bit of difference to how Europe deals with the eurozone crisis in terms either of immediate fire-fighting or institutional reform.

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake for Labour simply to watch and wait to see what happens in Europe. If it wins in 2015 – and it has to act on the assumption that it will – it is going to have to deal with the EU. And if it has ruled out British withdrawal, which it has for 25 years, it needs to work out how it will engage most constructively.

Here, it is essential that the party learns from the mistakes of the Blair and Brown governments between 1997 and 2010, which were marked firstly by zealous British enthusiasm for free markets and deregulation and secondly by foot-dragging on reforms to make the EU more accountable to its citizens.

It was Labour Britain that was the main force behind the EU’s drive for deregulation and privatisation throughout the first decade of this century. And it was Labour Britain, acting in concert with France, that ensured that the changes to the EU’s institutional arrangements that were eventually brought about by the 2007 Lisbon treaty (after the farce of the EU constitution being rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005) did so little to enhance the powers of the EU’s only democratically elected body, the European Parliament.

Even if Labour leaves the details for later, it needs to make it clear that it has left all that behind and now stands squarely for stronger European workers’ rights, comprehensive Europe-wide financial and environmental regulation and a radical democratisation of the EU’s institutions, in particular giving the European Parliament the power to initiate legislation on certain areas of policy.

What it should not do, under any circumstances, is flirt with Euroscepticism. It might be the flavour of the moment in the press and among the Tories, but it is not a viable option for a modern internationalist social democratic party. What Europe needs to overcome its current difficulties is more integration, more powers of economic management and more democracy – and Labour should not be afraid to say so.


This is what I wrote last time Tribune faced closure in a matter of days, back in 1988. I think the same today.

Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 22 January 1988

Now is the time for all good comrades to come to the aid of Tribune. As things stand, Tribune is set to close after this issue unless we get help, to the tune of £16,000 in total, in the next few days.

This is serious. There is no sugar daddy to bail us out. The Greater London Council was abolished some time back, and the unions are broke. There is no Moscow gold or CIA funding here. Tribune really is reliant on its readers and supporters to give it enough at once to ensure its survival.

Of course, we all have our criticisms of Tribune. The paper has sometimes erred in its choice of targets; and often it has been too shrill or insufficiently radical.

Sometimes the fact that the paper is ridiculously under-staffed and over-worked means that we go wrong -- being less grateful than we should to everyone who does so much for us (for no payment) being the most common sin.

But for all its faults, Tribune has been a vital part of the British left's political culture — and as such a vital part of Britain's culture.

Being part of some British political tradition does not, in itself, guarantee the usefulness of an institution: look at the House of Lords, the monarchy and much more besides. That Tribune has in the past had a role does not necessarily mean that it has one now. I believe it does have one, and that's not simply because my job is on the line.

Tribnne is the only open forum for debate among supporters of the British Labour Party and the Labour-sympathetic left. All the arguments of the British democratic left take place in its pages. Unlike others, the paper is not afraid to give space to unfashionable opinion. On the assumption that a democratic, discursive movement of the left is necessary for the left to have any success, Tribune is utterly essential.

As this issue goes to press, the future remains in the balance. We've had an extraordinary surge of donations and messages of support: we did not know everyone cared so much, and we're grateful to you all.

But we're not there yet; we will go under unless we raise another £16,000 in one week. Bung us a fiver please everyone, and get all your friends to do the same. Really.

25 October 2011


The following statement will appear in the issue of Tribune to be published this Friday:

Tribune is to cease publication in its 75th year. Unless arrangements can be found for new ownership or funding within days the last edition will be next week, 4 November. The decision has been made by Tribune Publications 2009 Ltd after a substantial cash injection failed to raise subscriptions and income to target levels.

The company intends to maintain a Tribune website, which will carry automated feeds from other left of centre sources and will require no staff. All six full-time and part-time staff are to be made redundant.

Owner Kevin McGrath has indicated to staff that if they wish to continue to run Tribune as a co-operative he is prepared to transfer the Company and the archive of 75 years editions to them free of any historical debt, which he has committed to honouring. In collaboration with senior officials from the National Union of Journalists, the editor and staff are exploring the possibility of setting up a co-operative to keep the title alive but with a deadline of Friday 28 October, time is regrettably short. Talks are taking placed in advance of a crunch meeting on that date at which new arrangements will be agreed or the company will be closed. Among the options under review with experts in co-op models of management is an appeal for short-term donations from readers and supporters on the basis that these funds would be converted into capital in a jointly-owned worker-reader co-op, with representation on a new board. The staff have agreed to continue working in order to get out a final edition and allow some time, short as it is, for an alternative to be found.

Mr McGrath, who rescued the paper after a consortium of trade unions relinquished ownership in March 2009, said: "The newspaper format of Tribune has, in a changing world of electronic communications and economics, become unsustainable. We are, however, determined to keep the Tribune brand alive by moving all publication to its web site and through the continued maintenance of the archive of the paper's 75 years.

"This means that the company has safeguarded the history of Tribune and will keep the brand alive through the web site which will run on an automated basis feeding off other left of centre political and arts web sites and will offer immediate, up-to-date news coverage. It is a positive and exciting move into the 21st century.

"I would personally like to thank all the staff for their hard work and commitment to Tribune over the years. I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank all our loyal readers for their support and hope they will stay with Tribune at www.tribunemagazine.co.uk and www.archive.tribunemagazine.co.uk.”

Since its launch in January 1937 Tribune has been a renowned journal of intellectual, literary journalistic and artistic merit. As a weekly, independent journal of the labour movement it is needed now more than ever.