Friday, 6 March 1987


Paul Anderson, review of Where There's Will by Michael Heseltine (Hutchinson, £12.95), Tribune, 6 March 1987

Michael Heseltine resigned from his post as defence secretary in the Thatcher government a little more than a year ago, outraged at the dirty tricks campaign being waged by trade and industry secretary Leon Brittan (backed by Thatcher) against his attempt to have a European consortium take over the ailing Westland helicopter company.

Brittan was forced to resign soon after Heseltine, and Thatcher herself began to look vulnerable. This time last year, there were plenty of political commentators in the bar-rooms of Westmister prepared to stake a fiver on Thatcher not being Prime Minster by the time of the next general election — and Heseltine was definitely the favourite to succeed her.

Such a scenario seems rather incredible today: barring a car-crash or a terrorist bomb, Thatcher will be PM at the time of the next election (whenever that may be). Heseltine stands a chance of succeeding her only if the Tories suffer an ignominous electoral defeat — or if the Alliance makes his leadership of the Tory party a condition of forming a centre-right coalition in the event of a hung parliament.

Perhaps it is the prospect of the latter that has made him write such a tediously balanced book. Where There's a Will tells no damaging anecdotes about the Thatcher government. Still less does it give Heseltine's version of the Westland affair. What it does contain is a lot about Heseltine the scourge of bureaucratic inefficiency and champion of free enterprise; a little about Heseltine the enthusiast for state intervention (but not nationalisation) to help industrial investment; and a smidgin of Heseltine the Great European (who nevertheless wants to be nice to the Americans).

It's all tepid stuff, a rehearsal of the arguments made familiar by the Tory wets who got out (or were pushed) while Heseltine was building his glorious ministerial career — which consisted (lest it be forgotten) largely of forcing various bureaucracies to cut jobs, running smear campaigns against the peace movement, and being photographed in a variety of costumes.

All the big questions about Heseltine, particularly those concerning his period in the Ministry of Defence, are left unanswered. Why were Sarah Tindall and Clive Ponting proseeuted, while Cathy Massiter was let off? What lay behind Heseltine's turnaround on Star Wars just before his resignation, when he signed a memorandum of understanding on British participation in SDI research without getting any of the guarantees he had held out for in nearly nine months of negotiation? Why didn't HeseItine instigate a full-scale review of Britain's military budget? And what does Heseltine really think about the major international issues of the day — the growing rift between Europe and America, arms control, Gorbachev? Heseltine's lack of candour combines with the predictability of his opinions on almost everything to make this an extremely disappointing book.


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 6 March 1987

The new Robert Maxwell London paper, the Daily News, has come as a pleasant surprise. Unlike Maxwell's other tabloids, it actually contains some serious popular journalism - and, unlike its rival, the Standard, it's not rabidly right-wing. The first week's editions broke several important stories. The paper didn't join the dirty campaign against Labour's candi­date in the Greenwich by-election, Deirdre Wood. And its coverage of domestic and foreign news is exem­plary. The sports section is lively; the columnists are a fair cross-section of London political personali­ties (including Ken Livingstone); and the entertain­ments listings and reviews are superb.

Time will tell whether the first week's standards will be maintained. I suspect the paper will not be publishing quite the number of pages, let alone the number of editions, once things have settled down. But I hope that Maxwell - who's a shrewd follower of market demand if nothing else - realises that London­ers do not find the pap the Standard serves up to them particularly satisfying, and that he'll allow a large degree of editorial autonomy to the Daily News.

In the meantime, Lord Rothermere, owner of the Standard, must be getting just a little nervous. The Daily News is, quite simply, bigger and better than the Standard, and he must be thinking that it's only a matter of time before the Daily News establishes itself at a much larger circulation, threatening the Stan­dard's advertising revenue.

It's very difficult to feel any sympathy for Rothermere: the Standard ranks with The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Sunday Telegraph for reactionary bigot­ry, and it has failed time and time again to break stories that it should have broken. Its columnists are (with the exception of Sam White in Paris) a rag-bag of drunks and incompetents, its regular cartoonist the worst in the land, and its foreign coverage (when not taken straight from the wire service) execrable.

But the Standard isn't the only publication likely to be hit by the Daily News. The morning national tabloids, particularly those at the upper end of the market (the ailing Daily Express, the appalling Daily Mail and the anodine Today) stand to lose out to the Daily News's morning edition, whether or not Max­well decides to turn the Daily News into a national paper (which he could be well-placed to do). And the quality of the Daily News entertainments guide could undermine sales of the London weekly listings maga­zines, particularly the increasingly tame and tepid Time Out. (City Limits, with its more "alternative" readership, seems relatively safe.)

If the Daily News does turn out to be a great success in its current form, it should do a lot to dispel the myth that serious popular journalism married to a left-of-centre editorial line won't sell - which in turn should give encouragement to everyone at News on Sunday, the soon-to-be-launched independent Manchester-based Left popular newspaper.

Of course, News on Sunday doesn't have Maxwell's resources for promotion - nor is it being launched into a market in which one journalistic joke of a newspaper has a monopoly position. It has also had some impressive public editorial bust-ups to cope with before launch day.

Nevertheless, the Daily News augurs well for News on Sunday - and that in turn augurs well for all of us that dream of having the left press we deserve. Who knows: after News on Sunday, a British left daily to vie with Liberation, Tageszeitung or Il Manifesto, attacking the Guardian's market from the left? But perhaps that's just a little too far-fetched...