The Tribune

In January 1937 Stafford Cripps and George Strauss decided to launch a radical weekly, The Tribune, to "advocate a vigorous socialism and demand active resistance to Fascism at home and abroad." William Mellor was appointed editor and others such as Aneurin Bevan, Ellen Wilkinson, Barbara Betts, Konni Zilliacus, Harold Laski, Michael Foot and Noel Brailsford agreed to write for the paper. Winifred Batho reviewed films and books for the journal.

William Mellor wrote in the first issue: "It is capitalism that has caused the world depression. It is capitalism that has created the vast army of the unemployed. It is capitalism that has created the distressed areas... It is capitalism that divides our people into the two nations of rich and poor. Either we must defeat capitalism or we shall be destroyed by it." Stafford Cripps wrote encouragingly after the first issue: "I have read the Tribune, every line of it (including the advertisements!) as objectively as I can and I must congratulate you upon a very first-rate production.'' Cripps declared that its mission was to recreate the Labour Party as a truly socialist organization. This soon brought them into conflict with Clement Attlee and the leadership of the party. Hugh Dalton declared that "Cripps Chronicle" was "a rich man's toy". Threatened with expulsion, in May 1937 Cripps agreed to abandon the United Front campaign and to dissolve the Socialist League.

By 1938 Stafford Cripps and George Strauss had lost £20,000 in publishing The Tribune. The successful publisher, Victor Gollancz, agreed to help support the newspaper as long as it dropped the United Front campaign. The new editorial board included Gollancz, Cripps, Strauss, Aneurin Bevan, Ellen Wilkinson, Harold Laski and Noel Brailsford.

When William Mellor refused to change the editorial line, Cripps sacked him and invited Michael Foot to take his place. However, as Mervyn Jones has pointed out: "It was a tempting opportunity for a 25-year-old, but Foot declined to succeed an editor who had been treated unfairly." As a result, H. J. Hartshorn, a secret member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, became the new editor of the newspaper.

On the outbreak of the Second World War Hartshorn, following the orders of Joseph Stalin, denounced the war as imperialist. Hartshorn also supported the Soviet invasion of Finland. It was now decided to sack Harshorn and replaced him with Raymond Postgate.

In 1941 Aneurin Bevan became the new editor of The Tribune. In the House of Commons Bevan opposed the heavy censorship imposed on radio and newspapers and wartime Regulation 18B that gave the Home Secretary the powers to lock up citizens without trial. Bevan called for the nationalization of the coal industry and advocated the opening of a Second Front in Western Europe in order to help the Soviet Union in its fight with Nazi Germany. The prime minister, Winston Churchill responded by calling Bevan the Minister of Disease.

Aneurin Bevan believed that the Second World War would give Britain the opportunity to create a new society. He often quoted Karl Marx who had said in 1885: "The redeeming feature of war is that it puts a nation to the test. As exposure to the atmosphere reduces all mummies to instant dissolution, so war passes supreme judgment upon social systems that have outlived their vitality."

George Orwell became the new literary editor in 1943. He also wrote a series of columns, under the title "As I Please". After the Labour Party victory in the 1945 General Election, Bevan joined the government and Frederic Mullally became the new editor, with Michael Foot overseeing the political direction of the paper.

The Tribune was critical of Clement Attlee and his government, especially the foreign policy being followed by Ernest Bevin and was a founder member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). In 1948 Michael Foot became editor of the newspaper. He held the post until 1952 when he was replaced by Bob Edwards. The new editor was hostile to Soviet communism and he denounced Joseph Stalin on his death in 1953. When Foot was defeated in the 1955 General Election he returned as editor. The journal remained hostile to communism and opposed the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution. Foot employed several new young journalists including Richard Clements, Ian Aitken and Mervyn Jones.

In 1956 Aneurin Bevan agreed to serve the new leader, Hugh Gaitskell, as shadow foreign secretary. The following year he shocked his political supporters, including his wife, Jennie Lee, by arguing against unilateral nuclear disarmament. Foot rejected Bevan's position and the newspaper remained committed to the CND.

In 1960 Richard Clements replaced Michael Foot as editor of Tribune. It gave conditional support to the government of Harold Wilson after the 1964 General Election. After the 1966 General Election this majority was increased to 97. Tribune and its supporters in the House of Commons such as Foot were highly critical of the government on wage restraint, the Vietnam War and Rhodesia.

In 1968 Barbara Castle, long-time supporter of Tribune, became Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity (1968-70) and attempted to introduce the government's controversial prices and incomes policy. The publication of the white paper, In Place of Strife (1969) brought her into conflict with the trade unions and the left-wing of the Labour Party. Her critics were particularly hostile to the proposal for compulsory strike ballots. As Anne Perkins has pointed out: "Barbara's stock crashed to earth. But the ramifications went far beyond personal disaster. The episode accelerated a renewed alienation between party activists and the Labour leadership."

When the Labour Party lost the 1970 General Election, the former editor of Tribune, Michael Foot accepted a place on the opposition front bench and was given the task by Harold Wilson of opposing British entry to the European Economic Community. When he first appeared on the Labour front bench a journalist observed that "it was as if Mrs Mary Whitehouse had turned up in the cast of Oh! Calcutta!".

Edward Heath, the new prime minister, came into conflict with the trade unions over his attempts to impose a prices and incomes policy. His attempts to legislate against unofficial strikes led to industrial disputes. In 1973 a miners' work-to-rule led to regular power cuts and the imposition of a three day week. Heath called a general election in 1974 on the issue of "who rules". He failed to get a majority and Harold Wilson and the Labour Party were returned to power.

Wilson appointed Foot as his Secretary of State for Employment. Michael Foot began by settling the miners' strike which had toppled the Conservative government. Over the next two years he restored trade union rights lost in Heath's Industrial Relations Act. He also created the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) and the Health and Safety Executive. When he left the post in April 1976, one of his senior servants commented: "You posed a quite exceptionable challenge to my powers of obstruction."

Chris Mullin replaced Richard Clements as editor in 1982. Other editors include Nigel Williamson (1984–87), Phil Kelly (1987–91), Paul Anderson (1991–93), Mark Seddon (1993–2004) and Chris McLaughlin (2004–present).

Kevin McGrath, a property investor, purchased the newspaper from a consortium of trade unions in 2009. Sales of the news continued to fall and in October 2011, McGrath announced: "We've tried as hard as we can but sadly sales are falling, subscriptions are down and advertising is down." He added: "The newspaper format of Tribune has, in a changing world of electronic communications and economics, become unsustainable." The editor, Chris McLaughlin, pointed out: "I am very sorry that we appear to have run out of ways to persuade Mr McGrath to keep it going."

The Morning Star reported on 30th October, 2011: "Labour-supporting journal Tribune was saved from closure at the weekend after a deal was struck between staff, management and the National Union of Journalists."

Primary Sources

(1) William Mellor, The Tribune (January, 1937)

It is capitalism that has caused the world depression. It is capitalism that has created the vast army of the unemployed. It is capitalism that has created the distressed areas... It is capitalism that divides our people into the two nations of rich and poor. Either we must defeat capitalism or we shall be destroyed by it.

(2) Barbara Castle, The Tribune (15th October 1937)

Many a short-sighted visitor to Russia has been shocked by external evidence of poverty. "But," they exclaim, "our workers enjoy better transport, better houses, better paved streets, smarter shops, better clothes than these people!" But the Russians don't get alarmed. The coming of the luxurious they know is "all a matter of time". And in the meanwhile they enjoy what capitalism can't offer its workers: security today, hope of abundance tomorrow... here is no shadow of slump and unemployment - only an insatiable demand for more and yet more workers. It explains the Stakhanov movement (rewarding exceptional productivity); throws light on the Trotskyist trials; is he key to the anti-abortion law and the role of women.

(3) Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan (1962)

The House of Commons was his (Aneurin Bevan) main forum; Tribune was used to fill in any gaps or oversights. He more than any other Member was resolved to keep the place alive. Sometimes he acted in conjunction with a considerable number of Labour Members or, on one or two important occasions, a majority of them. Sometimes he found himself competing or consorting with other prominent but less persistent critics such as Emanuel Shinwell. More often he was supported by a few of whom Dick Stokes, Sydney Silverman, George Strauss, Tom Driberg and Frank Bowles were the most effective. Frequently he was alone or almost alone. His closest friend in the Commons during these years was Frank Bowles, who had been returned for Nuneaton in 1942 and who gave him a staunch comradeship which he never forgot. What he achieved in this period was to help cut Churchill down to size - a fact which played its part in the post-war history of Britain.

(4) Ben Pimlott, Labour and the Left (1977)

The Socialist League's most enduring legacy was the weekly paper Tribune, launched on 1st January 1937. Conceived after the 1936 Edinburgh Party Conference as an independent paper which "would advocate vigorous Socialism and demand active resistence to Fascism at home and abroad," it replaced the Socialist League organ the Socialist and aimed at a wider public. Inspired by the recent success of the Left Book Club, its backers convinced themselves that it would be possible to establish a 50,000 sale for a twopenny weekly "in a matter of weeks on the crest of the enthusiasm guaranteed by the Unity Campaign". The editorial board included Bevan, Ellen Wilkinson, G. R. Strauss, Laski, Brailsford and Mitchison, with Cripps as Chairman and Mellor, who had once edited the Daily Herald, as editor.

Tribune became a permanent part of British political journalism, a spring-board for a variety of distinguished writers, and the established house journal of the Labour Left. In its earliest days, it was also a training ground for a couple of young socialists who were to emerge after the War as two of the most effective left-wing leaders: the close association of Barbara Castle (then Barbara Betts) and Michael Foot with Aneurin Bevan, which lasted the rest of Bevan's life and profoundly affected post-war British politics, began in Tribune's offices in 1937. Betts (who had written for the Socialist Leaguer and the Socialist) and Foot were both members of Tribune's original staff; Bevan wrote a weekly column for the paper on events in Parliament." Possibly as important as the association of these three was the close involvement of all of them, especially Foot and Betts, with William Mellor, "the granite-like socialist conscience of the Socialist League." Barbara Betts, youngest member of the League's National Council since 1936, formed a close relationship with Mellor, "one of the principal influences in her life."

Mellor's editorship was brief. This was because of the political vagaries of Cripps, and the power his money gave him. Whatever encouragement Tribune provided to the Labour Left, the first few weeks showed that the paper's founders had made a serious financial miscalculation. The Unity Campaign, on which they had pinned their hopes, failed to provide a circulation which approached the level needed for solvency. Sales figures were so bitterly disappointing that the paper nearly collapsed. It was rescued by a massive injection of funds, principally from Cripps and Strauss, who put up £20,000 between them, and over the next few years, Tribune's financial problems necessitated an identification with its chairman which belied its claim to independence."

When, in 19 8, Cripps switched from support for an exclusive working-class "united front" to support for a "popular front" of all progressive forces, he wanted Tribune to change its policy too. Mellor dug in his heels. Cripps, influenced by the Left Book Club triumvirate of Gollancz, Laski and Strachey, and moving closer to the position of the Communists, forced Mellor's resignation.

(5) Statement issued by The Tribune (24th October, 2011)

Tribune is to cease publication in its 75th year. Unless arrangements can be found for new ownership or funding within days the last edition will be next week, 4 November. The decision has been made by Tribune Publications 2009 Ltd after a substantial cash injection failed to raise subscriptions and income to target levels.

The Company intends to maintain a Tribune website, which will carry automated feeds from other left of centre sources and will require no staff. All six full-time and part-time staff are to be made redundant.

Owner Kevin McGrath has indicated to staff that if they wish to continue to run Tribune as a co-operative he is prepared to transfer the Company and the archive of 75 years editions to them free of any historical debt, which he has committed to honouring. In collaboration with senior officials from the National Union of Journalists, the Editor and staff are exploring the possibility of setting up a co-operative to keep the title alive but with a deadline of Friday 28 October, time is regrettably short. Talks are taking placed in advance of a crunch meeting on that date at which new arrangements will be agreed or the Company will be closed. Among the options under review with experts in co-op models of management is an appeal for short-term donations from readers and supporters on the basis that these funds would be converted into capital in a jointly-owned worker-reader co-op, with representation on a new Board. The staff have agreed to continue working in order to get out a final edition and allow some time, short as it is, for an alternative to be found.

Mr McGrath, who rescued the paper after a consortium of trade unions relinquished ownership in March 2009, said: "The newspaper format of Tribune has, in a changing world of electronic communications and economics, become unsustainable. We are, however, determined to keep the Tribune brand alive by moving all publication to its web site and through the continued maintenance of the archive of the paper's 75 years.

"This means that the Company has safeguarded the history of Tribune and will keep the brand alive through the web site which will run on an automated basis feeding off other left of centre political and arts web sites and will offer immediate, up-to-date news coverage. It is a positive and exciting move into the 21st century.

"I would personally like to thank all the staff for their hard work and commitment to Tribune over the years. I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank all our loyal readers for their support and hope they will stay with Tribune at and "

"Since its launch in January 1937 Tribune has been a renowned journal of intellectual, literary journalistic and artistic merit. As a weekly, independent journal of the labour movement it is needed now more than ever."

(6) James Robinson, The Guardian (24th October, 2011)

Staff at Tribune, the flagship leftwing journal whose previous editors included Aneurin Bevan and Michael Foot, are fighting to save the weekly title from imminent closure.

Tribune's owner, Kevin McGrath, a property investor who bought the paper two years ago from a consortium of trade unions, has decided to shut it after nearly 75 years of publication. Six full-time and part-time staff will be made redundant.

According to a statement to be published in this week's edition, next week's title, due out on 4 November, will be the final one unless a buyer can be found by Friday.

Editor Chris McLaughlin, a former political journalist at the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Mirror, emailed staff to say: "I am very sorry that we appear to have run out of ways to persuade Mr McGrath to keep it going."

McLaughlin is meeting officials at the National Union of Journalists on Wednesday to discuss turning the title into a co-operative owned by its readers and employees. McGrath has said he will transfer the company to such a consortium free of charge. "We will do our very best to keep Tribune alive," McLaughlin wrote in his email.

The statement to be printed in Tribune this week acknowledges that a deal is unlikely. "The staff have agreed to continue working in order to get out a final edition and allow some time, short as it is, for an alternative to be found," it reads.

McGrath is quoted explaining that the printed product cannot survive. "The newspaper format of Tribune has, in a changing world of electronic communications and economics, become unsustainable." He adds the Tribune name will survive as a website that will carry articles from other leftwing titles, but it will be automated and unstaffed.

The businessman and former Labour parliamentary candidate invested an undisclosed sum in March 2009 but the magazine has missed circulation and revenue targets.

Tribune has a pedigree stretching back to 1937, when it was set up by two Labour MPs. It was edited by Bevan during the second world war, when he was becoming one of the leading figures on the left of the Labour party. George Orwell became literary editor in 1943. After the war, with Bevan still involved, it become associated with the "Bevanite" wing of the Labour movement and was regarded as the flagship publication of the soft left.

It was selling around 6,000 copies a week by the 1980s and remained at that level for the next decade or so, but now sells far fewer copies.

(7) The Morning Star (30th October, 2011)

Labour-supporting journal Tribune was saved from closure at the weekend after a deal was struck between staff, management and the National Union of Journalists.

The fortnightly publication, which counts George Orwell and Michael Foot among its former staff, would have gone to press for the final time next week had a deal not been reached.

Millionaire owner Kevin McGrath, who bought Tribune from a union consortium for £1 in 2009, has offered to take on historical debts and release the title "debt free."

Before negotiations took place, he said: "We've tried as hard as we can but sadly sales are falling, subscriptions are down and advertising is down."

But the deal on Saturday has thrown Tribune a lifeline.

Terms for the co-operative were being drafted before a full staff meeting today.