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Friday, April 16, 2004
Avoid the fate of the New Statesman

There's been some informed chatter in recent weeks about the sudden decline of the Spectator. Plastic Gangster's comments on how something to look forward to has become almost a chore describes my own attitude perfectly.

Getting hold of it on Thursday used to be a pleasure, whereas now I often go to the website, stare blankly at the contents, check the book reviews and then tune out... It has all become thoroughly dreary. This week's edition was especially worthy of being used to line cat litter boxes nationwide.

From publishing a cover story sneering at the idea that Al-Qaeda posed a threat on the same morning as the Madrid bombings and the featuring of a bizarre interview with Nick Griffin, to the hiring of Andrew Gilligan and this week the choice to allow him the lead story, the Speccie has made some conspicuously bad moves recently. Though there have been exceptions to this pattern - just last week Peter Hitchens, Mark Steyn and Peter Oborne all had great pieces - the pattern exists.

So, if Boris is determined to set things right, what has he done first? Penned this week's Diary column - entitled 'I saw Victoria Beckham's bottom' - for himself.

Victoria Beckham is minute. She was standing in a circle of gofers and parents and children, and sort of glaring at the world. Her eyes were invisible behind enormous Dior shades, but her lips were thrust out in her trademark snarl, like some rainforest chief. She was wearing a furry waistcoat and odd, low-slung baggy trousers, but the most interesting thing was her bottom. It was either the top of her bottom or the bottom of her back. It was plainly visible, and appeared to be tattooed with some inscription or device. I scrambled after her up the stairs to the ski lift, in an undignified attempt to read the message. What was it? 'Open other end'? 'If you can read this, you are too close'?

... Back in London I see a new sandwich bar off the Gray's Inn Road, optimistically called 'The Butty Boys', complete with a pictogram of two beaming close-cropped young men. This is obviously good news, since it confirms that our society, like the Tory party, is becoming more vibrant, tolerant and forward-looking.

Eugh. There's certainly a market for this type of salacious yet politically correct drivel (hence professional journalistic airheads like Zoe Williams and Julie Burchill). But I find it very difficult to believe that the Spectator will ever be bought for that. It really is beneath the magazine to publish this rubbish, and beneath Boris Johnson to write it.

The Speccie has in recent years - much as any other time - been a journal of thought where the Right has contemplated the forces and issues of politics and begun to come to terms with the problems and opportunities of the twenty-first century. Just consider Peter Oborne's devastating insights into the Liberal Democrats, the great arguments between Mark Steyn and Matthew Parris on the right course to follow after 9/11, and all those other one-off pieces that made a good point well but concisely. In recent months the Spectator has become a shadow of what it was even a year ago, and in its way this one diary column captures so well the quandry it is now entering. Let us hope that it gets itself out of this rut soon, before it goes the way of the New Statesman and ends up utterly without anything original and interesting to say.

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