Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Top ten Political Columnists Part I

Yes, I know some readers might yawn at yet another list but they do provoke interest and comment and we bloggers love both so here goes.
I have to make some qualifying statements at the outset:
i) I read very widely in general but more particularly, being a left of centre person, The Guardian and Observer. I also read regularly the Sunday Times, Times, Telegraph and the Independent. In addition I consume the weekly Economist which does not usually provide authorship of its excellent articles.
ii) I confess I think the Guardian has the best stable of gifted writers of the quality press and that the rest, overall, don’t really come all that close.
iii) I do read the tabloids quite regularly but apart from Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun and Kevin Maguire in the Mirror, I don’t rate any of them. Indeed most of them would probably make it into my list of worst political columnists, (of which more, perhaps, on a later occasion).
iv) I recognize that there are many gifted journalists out there whose boots I am not fit to lick, but my purpose here is to offer my own, admittedly biased opinion, of how the leading people rank in terms of quality.
v) I recognize that male outnumber female columnists in my list and can only spread my hands and claim I am not being prejudiced in this particular aspect. These just happen to be my list of those I rate the most.

Rankings I offer three categories two of which I do not rank. First I mention the political editors whom I respect as highly authoritative, experienced and readable. Second I offer a ‘second division of ten or so columnists whom I think very good but not quite worthy of the top ten. Finally I offer my top ten columnists. The first two are covered in this post and the third, more important ranking will be given tomorrow.

Political editors/chief political commentators
These wise old birds are usually right on the money when it comes to reading the political game, hence their frequent appearances on news programmes, Newsnight and so forth. I do not attempt to rank them as they seem to me to be of equal merit as journalists who are thoroughly familiar with the topography of British politics and who seldom make a wrong call. By rights all of them should be in any top ten but for my purposes here I limit them to separate category
I do have two favourites: firstly unsurprisingly, is Michael White of The Guardian, who is not only very perceptive and insightful but often very funny with it. He was also a brilliant sketch writer earlier in his career. Secondly, equally wise and perceptive and extraordinarily well informed is Peter Riddell of The Times who has also written some outstanding books. Also reliable are: Steve Richards of the Independent is as well worth reading as he is listening to on his many broadcasting spots on radio and television; and George Jones of The Telegraph; and the occasionally idisyncratic Peter Oborne, political editor of the Spectator and John Kampfner who edits the New Statesman, both highly perceptive journalists who have also written widely elsewhere in the press and in their books.

Next Best Ten Columnists
This group is not ranked as to some extent they are not all comparable. They comprise those whom I rate highly and read regularly but do not quite make my top ten. They are:
Neal Lawson, the chair of Compass, who writes regularly in the Guardian and has been consistently good at thinking where Labour goes from here; Anatole Kaletsky, who writes on economics in The Times;
Mary Riddell who writes in The Observer;
Roy Hattersley who entertains and enlightens in The Guardian;
Mary Ann Sieghart who writes perceptively in The times;
Peter Preston who used to edit the Guardian and still writes a good weekly column;
Boris Johnson, who used to edit the Spectator and now writes entertainingly and when he wants shrewdly in the Telegraph; and finally
Mathew Parris who writes with grace and wit for The Times as well as broadcasting a great deal.
Top Ten tomorrow....

Simon Hoggart's witty parliamentary sketches in the Guardian are always a must read. He captures the essence of hilarious moments in the Commons that one cannot always glean from reading the Hansard.
Agree re Hoggart but he's not really a columnist in my book, more a comic writer, a list of which, if I know myself, I'll probably produce 'ere long...

Surprised that you, both as a blogger and a Northerner, could produce a list so utterly London/MSM-centric.

As for Portillo in your Top 10 - yer avin a larf, aren't you?!
The 'metropolitian' nature of my list has never occurred to me until you mention it. I can only say this is how they stacked up after considering maybe twice as many as mentioned. And yes, Portillo is a very perceptive journalist/commentator in my view. Though a poor political judge in terms of his own career.
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Well, we'll have to agree to differ about Portillo. I think his column is 24-carat bollocks, as was evidenced during the Tory leadership battle when he claimed the entry of Ken Clarke into the race had left David Cameron's campaign dead in the water.

As for the metropolitan/mainstream media bias, I am surprised, I really am. When I drew up my Top 10 list of political journalists, I included two current or former members of the regional lobby, and they were not token inclusions either. Generally speaking, you will find that political journalists on regional papers actually tell the truth rather than recycle spin as most of their national counterparts do. I would be surprised if you had not come across the work of Ian Craig of the Manchester Evening News, for instance.

Equally surprised by the omission of any political pundits from the blogosphere. One of the most astute political commentators in Britain at the moment is Mike Smithson of Political As Guido once said, he has more insight than the whole of the Lobby put together.
I'm sure you're right about regional columnists but I tend not to follow local and regional politics so closely. Agree Mike Smithson but consider him a blogger rather than a columnist. Ian Craig is also very good but I suppose I kind of excluded them all from a list of what were really 'national' columnists.
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