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My friends in The New Statesman – Fergie, Fiona, Tony, Sarah, Kevin, ‘Dacre,’ and a great GB idea for the G20

Posted on 18 March 2009 | 10:03am

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

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.

  • Judith Haire

    You’ve won me over and I will buy one, natch. Won’t be able to look at the cover. Cunning to have material left over no doubt JC will ask you back as sales rocket. Will let you know what I think (of course.)

  • Clare Jenkins

    OK I’ll see if it is available in our local Smith’s when I go to town tomorrow. It sounds an interesting mix

  • Jonathan

    Crumbs Alastair. On the face of it, there is not much here for me:

    1. I support Arsenal and the sight of Alex Ferguson’s puce visage lowering at me from the cover might cause me to turn back at the newsagent’s door.

    2. I normally buy the Spectator.

    3. I send my daughter to private school (and happen to think that people should be free to spend their hard-earned on pretty much anything that is legal without their morality being impugned).

    But your thought-provoking blogs and your willingess to publish my dissenting comments on them means that I will buy a copy of this. I might have to lie down in a darkened room after reading it, but I will give it a try.

  • Sanjay

    When are the vlogs going up? Do we get to see you in green shades shouting at hapless hacks?

  • Alison Baker

    Sounds like you have pulled in a few favours there AC. Looking forward to reading it. Ferguson on politics sounds good. Tony on doing God? Is that a slapdown. It was you who said we don’t do God. Maybe you should auction the Dacre cartoon for Labour funds … that would really get up his nose

  • Plato

    Sorry Alistair but this blog format is hideous to navigate around and doesn’t work well on a BBerry either.

    Shame – would be a regular reader if it lost the scrolling everything format.

  • Madeleine Phipps

    I will definitely buy it, and I don’t normally. Ferguson, Blair, Spacey and Sarah. That is quite a good line up I have to say. I agree by the way that it is great someone like Kevin Spacey comes to Britain and does something like run a theatre here. He is a major actor and a big star but he has really been great for London theatre. Long may he feel at home here. I’m not a sports fan but I will read Ferguson too, I promise. I hope it is not all boy’s talk

  • Alan Mackay

    How did you and Alex meet? It can’t have been when you were a journalist because he doesn’t seem to like them very much?

  • AC

    Alan, I’d met Alex at a few games – mainly Scotland games, and also one or two league games – and then the first time I really talked to him properly was when I interviewed him for the Labour Party News(RIP). It was a very political interview and covered some of the same stuff as is in the Statesman – his background, upbringing, values, root of his politics. He is a great friend to have, really solid and dependable. Of course hs is totally focussed on his job, but he also has a lot of time for people and causes outside.

  • Jane A

    I’m looking forward to this! Beware of doing it so well that they have a massive spike in readership tomorrow and then need you back to breathe more life in. I hope my mental health line got in 🙂

  • Marek

    £2.95 for the New Statesman is about 5% of weekly job seekers allowance. In your “‘umble opinion” would you pay that proportion of your weekly income for a publication? Why haven’t you allowed for the unemployed to get it free or are you a champagne socialist?

  • Dan Holton

    How can we be sure the ideas we send in to Gordon and Obama for the G20 actually get to them? Surely they will have better things to do than read a load of ideas from ramdom people? In the hope it might, my idea is that they agree international regulation so that countries are on the same pitch

  • Filo

    what about your overseas friends? We’d luv to read integrally your conversation with sir Alex or Blair doing God … Unfortunately, in Italy we don’t do the New Statesman in our newstands. HELP

  • Jane A

    What I’ve seen so far on the NS website is excellent – well done! Standouts so far are the leader and the Hilary Caprani article, but no doubt once I track down a print version there will be more & I want to see the full-length Fergie article. It’s like the whole magazine got defibrillated. Good work 🙂

  • Richard Barks

    Heard you on the radio today about the health service
    the only reason you get good care is because your name is alistar campbell any other poor sod is left on a trolley for 5 hours to soil himself and if he’s not dead might get a looked at by a doctor.My wife’s GP said to her “If you did’nt have private health care i would’nt sent you you to a cardiologist” ,she now has pacemaker fitted, if left to the NHS i would now be visiting her grave there is a sinister under current of culling by the state run NHS i now it’s sounds barmy but just look at the facts STAFFORD NHS is just the tip of the iceberg .Nott QMC is a disgrace
    to quote the old joke ,How can you tell which one of the nurse’s eye is glass ,its the one with the glint of humanity in it …….

  • Alina Palimaru

    To Filo:

    You can find The New Statesman in Italy here:
    Via Veracini 9, Milano, 20124, Italy
    Tel: 00 39 0267 0732 27
    Fax: 00 39 02 67 07 32 43

    If you are not in the area, you can contact Stephen Brasher, who handles these special sales and order it through him. That’s what I did!

    For all the others who live abroad and are interested in purchasing this or other issues of the magazine, here is the info page about where you can find vendors in your country.

  • Gerret Lorenzen

    My education was ruined by the wooly headed nonsense you were spouting on the radio today. Gifted children don’t bring the quality of those around them up. They fear being labelled different, and get dragged down to the level of the mediocore. Wake up and smell the coffee.

  • Filo

    tx a lot (and your NS contribution was outstanding).
    I’ll provide asap, wot I read online was xcllnt, i.e. Finkelstein stuff and Ali’s op-ed. Ah, the Gould piece, GREAT …
    Complimenti davvero

  • Brian Hughes

    One extra sale in Cheltenham! A former subscriber, it’s over five years since I last bought a copy.

    I enjoyed your editorial. You might have added a paragraph about getting better at opposition in local government. Some councillors and members seem reluctant to do to the Tories and Lib Dems what their MPs cheerfully do to us in Parliament i.e. attack us for doing what they’d probably have had to do themselves if they were in power.

    We should also be exposing the Tories’ “stealth cuts” such as those in grants to the voluntary sector (that’s the same sector which David Cameron often goes on about as being vital to rejuvenating society) and Boris’s chopping of the transport budget in London that’s resulted in many projects being abandoned.

    It’s difficult, perhaps, to make people understand that they’re missing what they’ve never had but, as you say, politics is difficult…

  • olli issakainen

    Just printed the most interesting articles (Sir Alex, Tony Blair, Philip Gould and of course the leader) from the online version of the New Statesman.

    P.S. The most famous the New Statesman reader here in Finland is Mr. Erkki Tuomioja, our former foreign minister.