Thursday, July 27, 2006


Top Ten Political Columnists part II

The Context Making a list of top ten political columnists, for a politics junkie like me, is like ranking (another passion) heroic test cricketers. These are the people whose views determine my view of the world, and a great many other people too. So here goes, in reverse order.

10 Peter Wilby This is the former editor of the new Stratesman, who writes frequently for The Guardian and who seems to cut to the heart of issues central to Labour activists e.g. see here.

9 Michael Portillo Much distrusted by the Tories but his very personal analyses-weekly in ST- always interest and inform. He is also very good on This Week, Andrew Neil’s discussion programme. Check his website.

8. Martin Kettle His Saturday column is invariably on a well chosen topic and his crisp analysis well worth the reading for his elegant arguments and sound judgements. See here for his archive.

7. Polly Toynbee Polly has become something of a bete noire for rightwing bloggers as she is held to be such a quintessentially Guardianista. She used to expend quite a bit of energy banging on about New Labour’s achievements but I never minded that. I think she’s excellent on issues like poverty or any topic requiring detailed social policy research. Find her archive here.

6. Max Hastings This somewhat gung ho former editor of the Telegraph and Evening Standard-recently knighted- is an interesting character who can write brilliantly: here's a sample. I occasionally find his default slightly toffee-nosed rightwingery a problem but the force of his writing cannot be denied.

5. Jackie Ashley Jackie's father, Jack was much loved Labour member of the Commons where every speaker faced him to answer his questions to help him counter his total deafness throiugh lip reading. Maybe it's her closeness to the party which enables her to write so well and constructively on its various, now quite acute problems. Read her splendid interview with Melanie Philips here.

4. Mathew D'Ancona A man who took the top first of his year, 1989, at Magdalen in modern history and then was elected a fellow of All Souls is likely to have something to say worth reading; this has been the case since he started writing for the Sunday Telegraph and, since February as editor of the Spectator. Here's a sample of him being entertainingly critical about Red Ken.

3. Timothy Garton Ash Another graduate of Oxford in modern history, this is a renaissance man of a columnist who has written many scholarly books as well as blazingly good articles in the press. He currently writes for the Guardian and is immensely impressive as a dip into his archive will demonstrate.

2. Andrew Rawnsley Very much a broadcaster cum journalist and very good at both, I always find his columns reflect the degree of intense inside knowledge which made his Servants of the People such a brilliant and authoritative read. Check out his archive if you don't believe me.

1. Simon Jenkins One time Times editor the prolific and scholarly Jenkins(knighted in 2004) now writes two articles a week for the Guardian, plus one for the Sunday Times not changing his usual(slightly right of centre?) stance one jot in the process. His recent articles on Iraq, the railways and, most witheringly, New Labour's incompetence are, to me at least, totally convincing. His archive is an education in itself. In my view he is Britain's top political columnist.

Can't stand Simon Jenkins or his writing. He seems to me to be an opinionated snob who is more concerned about preserving the country houses of long-dead aristocrats than he is in the issues affecting the majority. (But he's fairly sound on wind turbines!)

As he's never run so much as a cake stall in his life as far as I know, his comments on Labour's ability to run this fine nation are as valueless as something of no value (I never was very good at simile).......
Fair enough Hughesey. You're right about the country houses but as for him not ever running things, I think his stint as editor at the Times was generally regarded as successful. I also doubt he's a snob but right of centre? I had some trouble with that but found the aplomb of his writing and the persuasiveness of hius arguments made this less relevant.
The snob jibe was passed on from a friend who had the misfortune of having to do some business with the Great Man. The skills needed to edit a newspaper are very different from those needed to run a government department. One thing (out of many) which used to irritate me when I was a manager was that we were occasionally forced to go and listen to some great sportsperson, explorer, mountaineer or the like on the crazily mistaken assumption (usually by some theoretician in HR) that this would help us run our departments and/or projects better. But those folk, like newspaper editors, need short term leadership abilities and have very clearly defined goals. Most of the rest of us, including government ministers, need long term skills and have to work with loosely defined, complex, multiple and changing goals........
I had a small interaction with him re a future publication and he was as civil as one might wish. If I had to I would appply the snob jibe more closely to my number 6 columnist actually, based on the tone of some of his writings.
Jenkins at no 1? Really? This is the man who congratulated Blair for his tremendous vision when he (Blair) decided to keep the Dome project alive and who wrote a piece about the corrupt honours system (without mentioning his own acceptance of a knighthood). As for Max Hastings - well don't get me started.

Can I put in a plea for Martin Bright and Will Hutton.
Well, Jenkins isn't perfect but the quality of his journalism often is in my view. Hutton and Bright both very good as are a host of others- this is only my list of 'favourites' and is therefore very personal and, indeed, approximate.
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