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Media watch

David Floyd on left lifelines

Morning Star windfall not for wages

What was once dubiously referred to as 'actually existing socialism' is now - on a national scale, at least - a thing of the past in the developed world. But a version of it is preserved in microcosm within the offices of 'the world's only English-language daily broad-left socialist newspaper', The Morning Star.

Things seemed to be looking up for low paid hacks at the paper late last year when an 'anonymous consortium' - otherwise known as Anita Halpin, a veteran comrade who sold an inherited painting for over £20million a few years ago - decided to provide £500,000 over three years in order to enable the paper to go full colour and hire extra staff.

The bad news for the hacks was that 'the consortium' -drawing on many years of careful analysis of capitalist modes of production - was insistent that as little as possible of their investment should be spent on increasing the wages of the Star's staff, many of whom currently earn less than £18,000 per year.

The result was as inevitable as the replacement of capitalism with a dictatorship of the proletariat, and following a pay offer of 3% plus a one-off 3% 'bonus', Star journos voted 11 - 3 to go on strike.

As we go to press, the first one day strike, planned for Monday 23rd February, has been postponed 'as a sign of good faith' as workers and bosses seek a fudge that will balance the staff's desire to help keep a Left paper alive with their concurrent desire to live within commutable distance of the Star's London offices without having their pay subsidised by a spouse or partner.

For the management committee, political editor John Haylett told the Press Gazette: "Every Morning Star staff member is told bluntly at interview: The wages are crap. We work at the paper because we are politically committed to its aims. Socialists of any stripe should not be applauding the actions of a group of workers who are putting their own interests before those of our class as a whole."

Tribune optimism

Over at Labour Left weekly, Tribune, the even tinier staff team have been spending the last few months trying to find a benefactor of their own.

Following the failure of the magazine's existing trade union owners to back a business plan that he believed would make the publication sustainable within three years, editor Chris McLaughlin announced that Tribune would close unless new backers could be found.

The unions agreed to sell up for £1 and in December they found a willing buyer in Kevin McGrath, a Labour candidate at the forthcoming Euro elections and global investment manager at the asset management company, F&C Reit.

McGrath has agreed to take a 51% stake in Tribune Publications Ltd and to provide £40,000 a year for three years to underwrite the publication's losses. In early February, in an interview with Property Week, he compared Tribune - which has a circulation of roughly 4,000 - to the Barclay Brothers' 77,000 circulation right-wing magazine, The Spectator saying: "It could be as high profile as that."

In its own explanation of the deal on On December 5th last year, Tribune reported that: 'The unions are holding urgent talks on the discharge of liabilities as Tribune went to press. Lawyers representing the two sides are expected to take several weeks to seal the deal which, it is hoped, will come into effect at the start of the new year.'

It seems that the 'start of the year' element of this prediction may have been a case of old-fashioned socialist optimism but readers can justifiably hope that a new, improved version of Tribune will be available soon.

Labour List

As Kevin McGrath makes his first foray into the media business, a Labour communications veteran has dived headfirst into the unpredictable world of Web 2:0, with suitably entertaining results. Peter Mandelson's former sidekick, Dolly 'Derek' Draper, quit political lobbying in favour of psychotherapy in the late 1990s following his involvement in the 'cash for access' affair. Having returned to the Labour fold as an unpaid adviser last year, Dolly has now launched the website Labour List, a site that describes itself as 'Labour's biggest independent grassroots e-network' and has the online dating-esque strapline 'where Labour minded people come together'.

The site features blogs from fairly high profile Labour figures ranging from John Prescott and Hazel Blears to young Compassites Chuka Umunna and Tom Miller. Perhaps not surprisingly, Draper's re-emergence into the public eye has proved an unexpected boon for journalists and right-wing bloggers and mid-February saw The Guardian's David Hencke team up with libertarian blogger Guido Fawkes to question Dolly's stated credentials in his post-political career as psychotherapist.

Berkeley*

At this point, for legal reasons, it's advisable to relate the story in the form of direct quotes from Dolly himself: "I have never claimed to have attended U. C. (University of California) Berkeley. I have always said that I gained an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from a school in Berkeley*. What is being alleged is akin to suggesting that if someone says they "studied economics in London" they are claiming to have studied at the LSE. U.C. Berkeley is a college. Berkeley is a town."

He continues: "Several people have told me that Hencke colluded with Guido on this, an attempt to undermine me on the day of LabourList's launch.In a sense all this does is show how worried the right and their gullible partners in the mainstream media are about LabourList. But while they can attack my political activities as much as they like, they should leave my work as a therapist out of it." Indeed.

*Our italics.