Founded after the 2016 referendum as a ‘pop-up’ publication with an planned lifespan of just four weeks, The New European has reached its 200th issue. Regular contributor LIZ GERARD takes stock.
Oh we media folk do like an anniversary. Jubilees are excellent. Centenaries even better. But when there’s a bicentenary, we really like to push the boat out.
Especially if it’s our own. Ancient colleagues will recall the Royal Mail special delivery of a box containing a commemorative mug and a bottle of vintage champagne given to staff to celebrate the Times’s 200th birthday. I still have them, though the mice have probably gnawed through the box and the fizz will certainly have lost its sparkle after 35 years in an attic where the temperature hits 40C through the summer.
Maybe a ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ mug is on its way to deepest Essex for The New European’s special day.
Cultural bicentennials, like that of Emily Brontë two years ago, tend to be marked with retrospectives, readings and exhibitions, which are all very nice – but perhaps a bit niche. For the grand public spectacle you need an epic conflict, like Trafalgar, Waterloo or the American War of Independence – the daddy of bicentennials – that allow you to wallow in your great victory.
Here at TNE we are fortunate to be able to do both. Our cultural credentials can be taken as read – see the back half of the paper – but, hey, look too at our magnificent triumphs. We have stopped Brexit no less than half a dozen times. ‘Brexit bust’, we declared in July 2017; ‘Brexit over’, we announced in December 2018. We even carried a tombstone on the front cover in January last year, declaring Brexit dead.
Never mind the small detail that we are actually out of the EU. Our heart has always been in the right place.
And we have clearly inspired major political leaders. On our third birthday last summer, when the Brexit talks, the government and the Tory party were all in turmoil – and not in a promising way – founding editor Matt Kelly wrote: ‘We’ve won the argument.’
Who knew that Jeremy Corbyn paid such close attention to us that he should pinch our language to rationalise his humiliation half a year later?
Especially as we haven’t been, er, his greatest fans; our response to that ‘We won the argument’ landslide defeat being a front cover re-imagining the toppling of Saddam’s statue in 2003, with Corbyn being unceremoniously hauled from his plinth. How things change in just six months.
We couldn’t run such an image today: pulling down statues has taken on a whole new dimension. Now while it might be OK to depict the former Labour leader as a fallen dictator, it would be completely beyond the pale to liken him to a racist slave trader, however philanthropic.
Trump, though? Maybe we’d be more gung-ho. His recent appearances on our cover have included him riding a coronavirus like Major Kong astride a plummeting H-bomb at the end of Dr. Strangelove and teeing off from the top of a burnt-out car while his country smoulders around him; we have given him a gun for hair and a backside for a face. That baby blimp last December seems positively tame.
Such covers – by the brilliant Chris Barker – are testimony to the way this publication has moved from being a Europhile newssheet for can’t-get-over-it whingeing remoaners to a political periodical with a broad set of values and concerns that go way beyond Brexit and which – like Brexit itself – are not bound by traditional party allegiances.
After a Twitter row in January 2018 over criticism about a perceived lack of female contributors, Kelly had the humility to ask female colleagues for their views and then handed over the editorship of one issue to prominent feminist Caroline Criado Perez.
We have examined Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. We are as concerned about what Putin is doing to the world as we are about Trump, as worried about Venezuela and Brazil as we are about Italy and Greece.
We knew that Black Lives Mattered – and said so frequently – long before the death of George Floyd brought the protesters back to the streets and the movement back to our screens. We care about #MeToo victims and about LGBTQ equality, about refugees and about poverty, both within and beyond our shores. We recognise and appreciate that cultural life is as important as working life; that there is a world of riches out there that has nothing to do with profit or money.
And so we should. Anyone should. These are core human values.
Our detractors see all this as evidence that we are a bunch of lefties – the proof being our roll of writers, most notably that ‘lying war criminal’ Alastair Campbell and Guardianistas such as Michael White and Zoe Williams.
Never mind that Tim Walker is a refugee from the Telegraph, that I and other contributors are old Times hands, that Conservative MPs – albeit Remainers like Dominic Grieve – and Brexit Party staff have written for us. We’ve run articles from Brexit Party officials and even gave Arron Banks a regular column.
But, yes, if despising Nigel Farage and all he stands for is ‘leftie’, it’s a fair cop. If loathing the Mogg Tendency that ousted a prime minister to push their no-deal agenda is ‘leftie’, we confess. If questioning the democracy of shutting down parliament and purging non-right-thinking Tories is ‘leftie’, the case appears watertight.
If this current government, for all its ‘levelling up’ promises, and the Brexit Party’s Annunziata Rees-Mogg are what now count as the ‘centre’, we must be guilty as charged. But to our mind, we are the true centre of British politics and that is the ground we intend to fight for.
Many of our critics don’t trouble to open the paper before writing us off as a traitorous rabble, our cover-line view on Europe making our view on every subject irrelevant.
There’s nothing unusual in that. Post a Sun front page on Twitter – even a startlingly good one – and you can guarantee a #don’tbuythesun hashtag from someone who knows nothing of the paper but its reputation. Put up an Express front page, and non-readers, unable to distinguish between the whitetops, will sneer at the ‘Daily Fail’ or the ‘Daily Heil’.
It could fairly be said that the Daily Mail-The New European mutual admiration society has struggled to achieve a quorum. Alastair Campbell went so far as to write a piece headlined ‘Why I hate the Daily Mail’, while the Mail’s must-have descriptors for us include ‘obsessively anti-Brexit’ and ‘ultra-Remoaner’.
It does, however, at least look at some of what we’ve written before going on the attack – a ‘know thine enemy’ approach.
Boy, does the Mail know its enemies: opinionated luvvies, benefits scroungers, NHS fat cats, quangos, foreign criminals we can’t deport, the European Court of Justice, dentists. But so do we, and top of the list are Brexit liars and Boris Johnson (which, in his case, is the same thing).
The clown-in-chief has featured on about one in six of our covers (May beats him with nearly one in four), digging ditches that he wasn’t found dead in, driving JCBs through polystyrene walls, riding to the country’s rescue as a knight on white unicorn, relaxing on a deckchair alongside Jeremy Corbyn. As a ‘Kray twin’ with Michael Gove, a panto dame, a tinpot despot, a Russian doll, a time bomb, as a shadow of Trump (or vice versa).
The amount of bare flesh supposedly attached to this emperor in his new clothes has been frightening to behold. He has bent the Big Ben tower, the Big Ben tower has bent to crush him, and he has swung from the Big Ben tower like King Kong. We also had him swinging on Miley Cyrus’s wrecking ball – but at least we had the sense to put that image on an inside page. There is such a thing as scaring off potential readers.
Fortunately, as well as enemies, we have made friends. Possibly because we got off our backsides and marched alongside them to fight for what we believed in; perhaps because we gave away political memoir doorstops as a subscription bribe and tapped into an hitherto unrealised demand for unusable expletive-rich kitchenware.
Or maybe because we share the fear that we’ll be proved right and the hope that we’re wrong. (Our powers of prediction aren’t great, though, to be honest – as those ‘Brexit bust’ headlines attest. So please, Mr Editor, no ‘President Biden’ covers until the votes are counted).
And while we have critics who don’t read us, we are blessed with fans who do – and then help us to take the national debate on.
They appreciate our values and our writing. We appreciate their good sense, their good humour, and their good taste in employers – who feature weekly on our letters page. For the record, a number-crunching exercise shows that dogs and cats run pretty well neck-and-neck among animal readers with Remainer staff – terriers and cocker spaniels leading the canine pack; ginger and tabby cats edging it over black and white felines.
Guinea pigs, tortoises, newts, pheasants and cuddly Christmas chicken toys also apparently read TNE. Or use it as a litter tray liner.
We’re realists here. We know our place. And, much to many people’s amazement, we do have a place. Of course we are primarily concerned with Brexit – and will be keeping a close eye not only on the current negotiations but on the ongoing effects of our split with Europe – but we are also able to take a wider view of British and international politics and the great issues of the age: the environment, freedom, poverty, inequality.
We have a voice. Thank you for listening to it and for speaking back.