The Herbal Hill “heretics”

Melanie Phillips’s Diary: “The Heretics Of Farringdon”

Melanie Phillips on the recent resignation of the Observer’s editor, Roger Alton, who has been in the position for ten years and under whose leadership the paper has basically become the house journal of the Nick Cohen / Harry’s Place tendency. Says Mel:

Alton is a brilliant and inspired editor who is almost universally admired for his creativity and independence of spirit which have given the Observer a brio and readability that the Guardian so conspicuously lacks - and which is reflected in the fact that the Observer’s readership has risen while the Guardian’s has declined, which is said to be at the heart of Alton’s difficulty. His brilliance showed up the Guardian’s failure. So he had to go.

Well, in my experience (and I read it almost every day) the Guardian publishes columns by those of a wide range of opinions; they do include the liberal left, the hard left, the ex-RCP “left”, occasionally the Harry’s Place type left, Tories, liberals and the occasional neo-con. No such variety exists at the Observer, and it also eschews the hysterical front-pages (and generally dull opinion columns) of the Independent. The most significant change in the Observer, by the way, has been its conversion from broadsheet to Berliner, in which it actually followed the Guardian.

Mel links to a Daily Mail article which criticises the Guardian for printing stories criticising the content of the Observer, such as one in which the “Bad Science” columnist Ben Goldacre rubbished a story the Observer printed on its front page which suggested a link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination and autism, and another in which the same columnist rubbished a South African former policeman who claimed to have some sort of device which would locate traces of people who had been in any given place. The DM article presents it as an example of “civil war” at the Guardian, but quite apart from the fact that it would not matter if Ben Goldacre had published his pieces in the Observer and that this is simply intellectual debate, they then acknowledge that neither of the original Observer stories were true and that the Observer printed a correction.

I don’t know why Roger Alton has resigned. However, the fact remains that on Sundays, there is simply no equivalent to the Guardian, while those who have come to dominate the Observer aren’t brave, persecuted heretics but people with firmly pro-establishment views which they can express, weekend after weekend, in a mainstream newspaper whose future is not, right now, in doubt. I don’t want to see the Observer come to imitate the Indie on Sunday, but I do very much enjoy the Guardian’s liveliness and edge even though it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and there’s nothing like it on Sunday.

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