Monday, August 25, 2008

My life with Scarlett O'Hara

Issue 3 of 'Total Politics' has been published and, whilst I wouldn't normally promote a magazine which, thus far, has been less than entirely friendly to anyone other than Conservatives, I feel obliged to bring your attention to this item...

Clearly, I'm going to have to buy a new house, as the staircase is utterly unsuitable to sweeping down in voluminous skirts...


Iain Dale said...

Mark, I really take exception to your remark about political impartiality. Even Kevin Maguire (not exaclty a friend of the magazine) says he has been unable to detect any Tory bias. Perhaps you might justify your allegation. I am sure our Labour supporting editor would be as horrified by it as I am.

Jennie Rigg said...

Why does Ros want to make you wear voluminous skirts? I mean, not that I don't think you'd look good in them, but...


Mark Valladares said...


I will be perfectly happy to withdraw my comments on a like for like basis. But then you've often been quick to attack Liberal Democrats on the basis of some of, but not all of, the facts, and rather slower to apologise once the facts indicate your error.

You have, indeed, published a letter in Issue 3 condemning the lack of reference to Liberal Democrats in the first two issues. As an independent magazine, you have every right to publish whatever you like. On the other hand, I have every right to perceive a lack of balance in your content. That, I currently do. I am clearly not alone.

Iain Dale said...

Mark, I think you need to separate the world of partisan political blogs with a non partisan magazine. You have made a serious allegation against the magazine yet dont back it up with anything specific. If you have a specific allegation I am happy to look at it.

Plenty of people thought we would be partisan before we published an issue. I just said 'judge us on what we do'. So far I can think of no one who has looked at the three issues and thought we were pro Tory. Or indeed pro anything else.

I saw the letter about lack of LibDem coverage. I'm not sure it was entirely fair, although I accept we havent yet done a feature interview with a LibDem politician. That is being put right in the November issue.

Our magazine will not succeed if people think it is biassed towards one party and we have so far moved heaven and earth to make that non-partisanship is a reality as well as a perception.

I hope you will let me know (privately if you like) what you perceive any biasses are, or have been, so they can be addressed.

Mark Valladares said...


Fair enough. However, bias is not simply the issue of what is published, it is as much what isn't.

So let's have a look at Issue 3, shall we? Interview with Boris, article about former Conservative MP, fairly critical article about former Labour County Council leader, interview with Alex Salmond, interview with Peter Robinson, fluffy article about diets with Rhodri Morgan, article about SNP MP about his music career, fluffy piece about a Lib Dem peer.

So. let's see, no coverage of Labour or the Liberal Democrats with meaningful political comment, opportunities for Conservative, Scottish Nationalist and Democratic Unionists to convey a positive message. Curiously, all three either oppose the current Government or have a historic tradition of doing so.

I agree with you, if your magazine is perceived to be merely part of a wider campaign in the media to undermine the Government or another oppostion party, it may fail. However, that's your problem, and I have no duty to quietly stand by if I think that you're failing.

I'll be watching your declared readership figures with interest and, if you make a success of it, I'll be perfectly content to say so. I just don't think that you're doing so just yet.

But the fact that you're bothering to respond to a very minor point of light in the constellation of political bloggers implies that either you're overly sensitive, or that I might just have a point. Neither of these things is necessarily helpful to your case.

On the other hand, you can do something about it, and I can't, so I'll leave you to it...

Iain Dale said...

And you think Boris came out well from that interview? I thought it made him look a fool.

And I doubt whether Alex Salmond thinks the interview I did with him had a positive outcome. And the SUP opposing the government? Where have you been? 42 days...

Now compare the contents of Issue 3 with Issues 1 and 2. If you can honestly go through those and put them together with issue 3 and say we are pro Conservative then there will never be anything I can do to persuade you otherwise. You should take off your blinkers for a moment.

So I am either over sensitive or think you have a point. Can't win with you can I? But then I suppose I knew that when I wrote the first comment!

Mark Valladares said...


I'm perfectly happy to accept that you're oversensitive. Very few people in your position would feel it necessary to even raise the issue with someone who doesn't even subscribe to their magazine.

In fact, given that the reference to Total Politics was of the 'throwaway variety', and wasn't particularly critical - the phrase was 'less than entirely friendly' (would you have preferred 'entirely friendly'?) - I can't help feeling that your response is somewhat over the top, unless you're planning to do this whenever anyone is less than gushing about Total Politics.

With reference to the articles on Boris and Alex, you gave them an opportunity, your writers surely didn't go into the interviews with an avowed intention to stitch them up - hardly non-partisan to do so. As for the DUP, one vote on 42 days hardly makes them friends of the Government.

Finally, on the point of your output so far, fine, believe it. I didn't say that your magazine was pro-Conservative, you just drew that conclusion. You are, I believe, predominantly funded and supported by pro-Conservative figures, and whilst I am happy to accept that there is no conscious or malicious attempt at bias, your job is to convince me that this is so over a period of time, assuming it matters enough to me to pursue the question.

For the record, I've tended to the view that your contribution to political dialogue in this country has been pretty positive, which is why I'm disappointed when you resort to cheap shots in your blog when you're capable of much better.

However, I have a blog posting to write, so I'll let you get on with the myriad number of more important things that you probably have to do...



Jennie Rigg said...

Iain, FWIW, and knowing that you probably care about my opinion even less than Mark's, gobshite that I am, I'd like you to know that I will never, ever buy Total Politics, and I'll tell you for why. Even if you're telling the truth about bending over backwards to make it impartial (and I really do believe that you are telling the truth here, and that you really want the magazine to be impartial), the fact remains that by buying it, I will be giving my money to (predominantly) Tories who are active campaigners for the Tory party in word and deed.

I don't have enough money to fund campaigns for my own party, let alone the opposition. So even if Total Politics becomes the most interesting magazine on the planet (instead of the largely fluff I am told it is at the minute), I still won't buy it.

I suspect I am not alone in that.


Iain Dale said...

Mark, Promise this will be the last one!

I plead guilty to being sensitive over allegations of partisanship on TOTAL POLITICS. You made a remark, offhand or not, which I felt was unjustified so I called you on it. You have explained your position and allowed me to do the same.

On Boris and Alex Salmond. There was no stitch up on either. James Silver is a professional interviewer. I interviewed Alex Salmond. It was an In Conversation piece with no interpretation from me at all. For a magazine whose mission statement is to be 'unremittingly positive' about politics it would indeed be perverse to go into an interview with the intention of stitching anyone up. No one would ever agree to be interviewed by us if we did that.

Let's leave it there. I hope that within twelve months you will be convinced!

JENNIE - Thanks for being honest! Obviously you are unpersuadeable. Just bear in mind that 33% of our staff are LibDems, as is our PR consultant!

Mark Valladares said...


The advantage of being the publisher is that you have the right of final response...

To clarify, I didn't suggest that the interviews with Boris and Alex were a stitch-up, quite the reverse. My inference was that you presented them with a platform, and your inference was that they blew it. I don't believe that for one moment the intention was to get them to say anything stupid, and we both understand how the media game is played.

In summary, it has been a pretty courteous conversation, and I'm happy to acknowledge that. It would be good to see a successful politics magazine in this country, and I retain a hope that it might be Total Politics.

However, if readers of your blog consider its contents and then have doubts about your ability to be truly non-partisan, there is a risk that you and your colleagues will fail. Given that your credibility is one of the key selling points of Total Politics, you might like to bear that in mind.

Just a thought, Iain...