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Tribune (magazine)

Type Weekly magazine
Editor Chris McLaughlin
Founded 1937
Political alignment Democratic socialist
Headquarters Arkwright Road, London

Tribune is a democratic socialist weekly, founded in 1937 published in London. It is independent but has supported the Labour Party from the left. It has alternated between appearing as a newspaper and as a magazine.


Tribune was set up in early 1937 by two left-wing Labour Party Members of Parliament (MPs), Stafford Cripps and George Strauss, to back the Unity Campaign, an attempt to secure an anti-fascist and anti-appeasement United Front between the Labour Party and socialist parties to its left which involved Cripps's (Labour-affiliated) Socialist League, the Independent Labour Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CP).

The paper's first editor was William Mellor, and its journalists included Michael Foot and Barbara Betts (later Barbara Castle). As well as Cripps and Strauss, its board comprised the Labour MPs Aneurin Bevan and Ellen Wilkinson, Harold Laski of the Left Book Club and the veteran left-wing journalist and former-ILPer H. N. Brailsford.

Mellor was fired in 1938 for refusing to adopt a new CP policy — which was supported by Cripps — of backing a Popular Front, including non-socialist parties, against fascism and appeasement; Foot resigned in solidarity. Mellor was succeeded by H. J. Hartshorn, a secret member of the Communist Party, and Victor Gollancz, the Left Book Club's publisher, joined the board of directors. For the next year, the paper was little more than an appendage of the Left Book Club, taking an uncritical line on the Popular Front and the Soviet Union.

The 1940s

In 1939, after the Nazi-Soviet pact and the outbreak of the second world war, Tribune initially adopted the CP's position of denouncing the war as imperialist. But after the Soviet invasion of Finland, with Cripps off on a world tour, Strauss and Bevan became increasingly impatient at Hartshorn's unrelenting Stalinism. Strauss fired him in February 1940, replacing him as editor with Raymond Postgate. Under Postgate's editorship, the Soviet fellow travellers at Tribune were either dismissed, or, in Postgate's words "left soon after in dislike of me".[1] From then on the paper became the voice of the pro-war democratic left in the Labour Party, taking a position similar to that adopted by Gollancz in his famous edited volume attacking the communists for backing the Nazi-Soviet pact, Betrayal of the Left.

File:Tribune flier 1941.jpg
Early 1941 Tribune flier

Bevan ousted Postgate after a series of personality clashes in 1941, assuming the role of editor himself, though the day-to-day running of the paper was done by Jon Kimche. The Bevan-Kimche Tribune is revered as one of the greatest left-wing papers in British history. It campaigned vigorously for the opening of a second front against Adolf Hitler's Germany, was consistently critical of the Churchill government's failings and argued that only a democratic socialist post-war settlement in Britain (and Europe as a whole) was viable.

George Orwell was hired in 1943 as literary editor. In this role, as well as commissioning and writing reviews, he wrote a series of columns, most of them under the title "As I Please", that have become touchstones of the opinion journalist's craft. Orwell left the Tribune staff in early 1945 to become a war correspondent for The Observer — he was replaced as literary editor by his friend Tosco Fyvel — but remained a regular contributor until March 1947.

Orwell's most famous contributions to Tribune as a columnist include "You and the atom bomb", "The sporting spirit", "Books v cigarettes", "Decline of the English Murder" and "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad", all of which have appeared in dozens of anthologies.

Other writers who appeared in Tribune at this time included Naomi Mitchison, Stevie Smith, Alex Comfort, Arthur Calder-Marshall, Julian Symons, Elizabeth Taylor, Rhys Davies, Daniel George, Inez Holden and Phyllis Shand Allfrey.[2]

Kimche left Tribune to join Reuters in 1945, his place being taken by Frederic Mullally. After the Labour landslide election victory of 1945, Bevan joined Clement Attlee's government and formally left the paper, leaving Mullally and Evelyn Anderson as joint editors, with Foot playing Bevan's role of political director. Over the next five years, Tribune was critically involved in every key political event in the life of the Labour government and reached its highest-ever circulation, of some 40,000. Foot persuaded Kimche to return as joint editor in 1946 (after Mulally's departure to the Sunday Pictorial) and eventually himself became joint editor with Anderson in 1948 after Kimche was fired for disappearing from the office to Istanbul to negotiate the safe passage of two Jewish refugee ships through the Bosporus and Dardanelles.

In the first few years of the Attlee administration, Tribune became the focus for the Labour left's attempts to persuade Ernest Bevin, the Foreign Secretary, to adopt a "third force" democratic socialist foreign policy, with Europe acting independently from the US and the Soviet Union, most coherently advanced in the pamphlet Keep Left (which was published by the rival New Statesman).

In 1948, however, after the Soviet rejection of Marshall Aid and the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia, Tribune endorsed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and took a strongly anti-communist line. "The major threat to democratic socialism and the major danger of war in Europe arises from Soviet policy and not from American policy", declared the editors in November 1948. "It is not the Americans who have imposed a blockade on Berlin. It is not the Americans who have used conspiratorial methods to destroy democratic socialist parties in one country after another. It is not the Americans who have blocked effective action through one United Nations agency after another."

Bevanism and CND

Foot remained in the editorial chair until 1952, when Bob Edwards took over, but returned after losing his parliamentary seat in Plymouth in 1955. During the early 1950s, Tribune became the organ of the Bevanite left opposition to the Labour Party leadership, turning against America over its handling of the Korean War then arguing strongly against West German rearmament and nuclear arms. Tribune remained critical of the Soviet Union, however: it denounced Stalin on his death in 1953, and, in 1956, opposed the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution and the British government's Suez adventure. The paper and Bevan parted company after his "naked into the conference chamber" speech at the 1957 Labour Party conference: for the next five years Tribune was at the forefront of the campaign to commit Labour to a non-nuclear defence policy, "the official weekly of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament" (CND) as the direct actionists in the peace movement put it. CND's general secretary, Peggy Duff, had been Tribune general manager. Among journalists on Tribune in the 1950s were Richard Clements, Ian Aitken and Mervyn Jones, who related his experience on the paper in his autobiography Chances.

The 1960s and 1970s

After Foot was re-elected to Parliament in 1960 for Bevan's old seat of Ebbw Vale, Richard Clements became editor. During the 1960s and 1970s the paper faithfully expressed the ideas of the parliamentary Labour left and allied itself with the new generation of left-wing trade union leaders that emerged on the back of a wave of workplace militancy from the early 1960s onwards.

As such, it played a massive role in the politics of the time. Although it welcomed the election of Harold Wilson's Labour government in 1964 – "Tribune takes over from Eton in the cabinet", exclaimed a headline – the paper became rapidly disillusioned. It denounced the Wilson government's timidity on nationalisation and devaluation, opposed its moves to join the European Economic Community (EEC) and attacked it for failing to take a principled position against the Vietnam War. It also backed the unions' campaigns against the government's prices-and-incomes policies and against In Place of Strife, Barbara Castle's 1969 package of trade union law reforms.

The paper continued in the same vein after Edward Heath won the 1970 general election, opposing his Tory government's trade union legislation between 1970 and 1974 and placing itself at the head of opposition to Heath's negotiations for Britain to join the EEC. After Labour regained power in 1974, Tribune played a central part in the "no" campaign in the 1975 referendum on British EEC membership.

But Tribune in this period did not speak to, let alone represent, the concerns of the younger generation of leftists who were at the centre of the campaign against the Vietnam War and the post-1968 student revolt, who found the paper's reformism and commitment to Labour tame and old-fashioned. Circulation, around 20,000 in 1960, declined to around 10,000 in 1980.

Supports Tony Benn for an instant

Clements resigned as editor in 1982 to become a political adviser to Foot (by now Labour leader), a role he continued under Foot's successor as Labour leader, Neil Kinnock. Clements was succeeded in the Tribune chair by Chris Mullin, who steered the paper into the supporting of Tony Benn (then just past the peak of his influence on the Labour left) and attempted to turn it into a workers' co-operative, much to the consternation of the old Bevanite shareholders, most prominent among them John Silkin and Donald Bruce, who dominated the paper's board. A protracted dispute ensued that at one point seemed likely to close the paper.

Paper of the 'soft left'

Mullin left in 1984, with circulation at around 6,000 (at which level it roughly remained for the next 10 years). He was replaced by his equally Bennite protege Nigel Williamson (editor 1984-87), who surprised everyone by arguing for a 'realignment of the left' and took the paper into the 'soft left' camp, supporting Kinnock, a long-time Tribune contributor and onetime board member, as Labour leader against the Bennites. The next two editors, Phil Kelly (editor 1987-91), and Paul Anderson (editor 1991-93), took much the same line though both clashed with Kinnock, particularly over his decision to abandon Labour's non-nuclear defence policy.

Under Kelly, Tribune supported John Prescott's challenge to Roy Hattersley as Labour Deputy leader in 1988 and came close to going bust, a fate averted by an emergency appeal launched by a front page exclaiming "Don't let this be the last issue of Tribune". Under Anderson, the paper took a strongly pro-European stance, supported electoral reform and argued for military intervention against Serbian aggression in Croatia and Bosnia. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Tribune acted as a clearing house for arguments inside the Labour Party, with contributions from all major players.

Back to basics

From 1993, Mark Seddon (editor 1993-2004) shifted Tribune several degrees back to the left, particularly after Tony Blair became Labour leader in 1994. The paper strongly opposed Blair's abandonment of Clause Four of the Labour Party constitution and resisted his rebranding of the party as 'New Labour'.

After Labour won the 1997 general election, the paper maintained an oppositionist stance, objecting to the Blair government's military interventions and its reliance on spin-doctors. In 2001, Tribune opposed the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, and it was outspoken against the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The paper under Seddon also reverted to an anti-European position very similar to that it adopted in the 1970s and early 1980s and campaigned for Gordon Brown to replace Blair as Labour leader and prime minister.

Tribune changed format from newspaper to magazine in 2001, but remained plagued by financial uncertainty, coming close to folding again in 2002. But Seddon and Chairman of Tribune Publications, the Labour MP Peter Kilfoyle led a team of pro-bono advisers who organised a rescue package with a consortium of trade unions (Unison, Amicus, Aslef,[3] Communication Workers Union, Community, T&GWU[4]), who became majority shareholders in return for a significant investment in the magazine in early 2004.

While editor, Seddon was elected several times to the Labour Party National Executive Committee as a candidate of the Grassroots Alliance coalition of left-wing activists. Seddon resigned as editor in summer 2004 and was succeeded by Chris McLaughlin, former political editor of the Sunday Mirror.

During 2007, Tribune spawned two offshoot websites, a Tribune Cartoons blog, put together by cartoonists who draw for the magazine, and a Tribune History blog.

In September 2008, the magazine's future was again in doubt thanks to problems with its trade union funding. An attempt by the Unite trade union to render Tribune its wholly owned subsidiary had a mixed response,[5] but on 9 October it was announced that the magazine would close on the 31 October if a buyer could not be found.[3] The uncertainty continued until early December 2008 when it emerged that a 51% stake was being sold to an unnamed Labour Party activist for £1 with an undertaking to support the magazine for £40,000 per annum and debts written off by the now former trade union owners.[6]

Tribune's cartoonists are Alex Hughes, Matthew Buck (Hack), Jon Jensen, Martin Rowson and Gary Barker.

Changes of ownership

In March 2009 100% ownership of the magazine passed to Kevin McGrath, through a new company Tribune Publications 2009 Limited, with the intention of keeping Tribune a left-of-centre publication though broadening the readership.[4][7][8]

In late October 2011, the future of Tribune looked bleak once again when McGrath warned of possible closure as subscriptions and income had not risen as had been hoped.[9] Unless a buyer could be found or a cooperative established, the last edition would have been published on 4 November.[10] McGrath committed to paying off the magazine's debts. A rescue plan, with the magazine owned by staff and readers, saved the magazine at the end of October.[11]

The Tribune Group of MPs

The Tribune Group of Labour MPs was formed as a support group for the newspaper in 1964. During the 1960s and 1970s it was the main forum for the left in the Parliamentary Labour Party, but it split over Tony Benn's bid for the deputy leadership of the party in 1981, with Benn's supporters forming the Socialist Campaign Group. During the 1980s, the Tribune Group was the Labour soft left's political caucus, but its closeness to the leadership of Neil Kinnock and subsequently Gordon Brown and Tony Blair meant that it had lost any real raison d'etre by the early 1990s.

The group was reformed in 2005, led by Clive Efford, MP for Eltham. Invitations to join the newly reformed group were extended to backbench Labour MPs only.[12]

List of editors

  1. William Mellor (1937–38)
  2. H. J. Hartshorn (1938–1940)
  3. Raymond Postgate (1940–41)
  4. Aneurin Bevan and Jon Kimche (1941–45)
  5. Frederic Mullally and Evelyn Anderson (1945–46)
  6. Jon Kimche and Evelyn Anderson (1946–48)
  7. Michael Foot and Evelyn Anderson (1948–52)
  8. Bob Edwards (1952–55)
  9. Michael Foot (1955–60)
  10. Richard Clements (1960–82)
  11. Chris Mullin (1982–84)
  12. Nigel Williamson (1984–87)
  13. Phil Kelly (1987–91)
  14. Paul Anderson (1991–93)
  15. Mark Seddon (1993–2004)
  16. Chris McLaughlin (2004–present)


  1. ^ Bill Jones, The Russia Complex : the British Labour Party and the Soviet Union. Manchester : Manchester University Press, 1977. ISBN 0719006961 (p. 48-9)
  2. ^ Paravisini-Gebert, Lizabeth (1996). Phyllis Shand Allfrey: A Caribbean Life. Rutgers University Press. p. 61. ISBN 0-8135-2265-X. 
  3. ^ a b John Plunkett, "Tribune set to close by November", The Guardian, 9 October 2008. The first cited reference is slightly misleading, Amicus merged with the TGWU in 2007 to form Unite.
  4. ^ a b Paul McNally (17 March 2009). "Sale of Tribune to Labour party activist is completed". Press Gazette. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  5. ^ Paul Anderson "Better read than dead", The Guardian (Comment is Free website), 11 September 2008.
  6. ^ Keith Richmond "Tribune’s future: unions and buyer agree deal for sale", Tribune blog, 5 December 2008.
  7. ^ "Tribune Saved – Weekly Political Journal Under New Ownership". Tribune. 16 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  8. ^ Chris McLaughlin (26 March 2009). "Tribune's new board and plans for expansion are unveiled". Tribune. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  9. ^ Alice Gribbin "Tribune magazine to close", New Statesman (The Staggers blog) 25 October 2011
  10. ^ James Robinson "Tribune, journal of the left, faces closure after 75 years", The Guardian, 25 October 2011
  11. ^ Antony Peyton "'Tribune' magazine saved from closure at eleventh hour", The Independent, 30 October 2011
  12. ^ "Commons Confidential: November 2005". BBC News. 30 November 2005. 

Further reading

  • Anderson, Paul (ed.), Orwell in Tribune: 'As I Please' and Other Writings. Methuen/Politico's, 2006. ISBN 1-84275-155-7
  • Hill, Douglas (ed.), Tribune 40: the first forty years of a socialist newspaper. Quartet, 1977. ISBN 0-7043-3124-1
  • Thomas, Elizabeth (ed.), Tribune 21. MacGibbon and Kee, 1958.

External links