Expert Eye: Kevin Maguire on Total Politics

Self-generated hype and glitzy launch parties are rarely as reliable a guide to the prospects of a new magazine as its second issue. Total Politics, a glossy free monthly that the publisher says is posted to 23,000 elected politicians across every tier of government, gained credibility on its launch with a newsy Gordon Brown interview to complement the back-slapping and champagne.

The second edition, however, felt flat and an ‘exclusive’Q&A with Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai failed to set pulses racing if the unopened copies I saw in national newspaper offices in the House of Commons are any guide.

I wonder if the unashamed focus on politics as lifestyle will appeal mainly to anoraks and a pledge to take an ‘unremittingly positive’view of politics will grate.

The magazine looks to me like one of those free mags advertising over-priced jewellery and shopping trips to Dubai you find in the bedrooms of some hotel chains.

Confusing

The use of pictures is uninspiring and the layout dull as well as occasionally confusing. A piece by former diplomat Charles Crawford on how to run a department seems to take an odd turn when he appears to start discussing clothes. In fact, the end of Crawford’s advice to ministers wasn’t signposted clearly and nor was the start of an item on three MPs buying ties.

I’d like the designers to be more imaginative but slapping a headline in the middle of a page instead of at the top doesn’t always work. Maybe it should use the tried and tested method of capping the first word of every new article.

That said, Crawford’s thoughts were mildly interesting and I also enjoyed bits on Bush, a wannabe MP and what former SDP MP Bill Pitt is up to now (editing a local newsletter).

But, quite frankly, who cares that celebrity chef John Burton Race, were he prime minister, would have a Porsche Turbo as his official car while representing the Green Party because he – ho ho ho – likes the colour?

I might, just might, be interested in what Blair’s old agent John Burton would do in Downing Street but never the half-baked opinions of John Burton Race who, presumably, was trying to be funny.

Total Politics has a £3.95 cover price, which should help the title’s free readers feel they’re getting something for nothing, but I cannot see many folk not on the mailing list forking out to buy it. Or certainly not a second time.

Influence

Publisher Iain Dale, a failed Tory parliamentary candidate who now blogs, is a master of self-publicity and will undoubtedly work hard to keep his baby afloat, while Conservative deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft has deep pockets.

I dubbed it Total Ashcroft in my New Statesman column when I exposed that Dale was working out of the peer’s basement, but Dale maintains it will be ‘politically neutral”, with two Labour MPs (bizarrely including the editor’s father) sitting on an editorial board.

Upwards of 30 MPs, including Liberal Democrat deputy leader Vince Cable, have signed a Commons Early Day Motion tabled by Labour’s Peter Kilfoyle vowing to ‘reject the free copies’because of the Ashcroft-Dale axis, but I didn’t detect any Tory bias in the first two issues.

Much will depend on whether advertisers stick with it over the next few months as the mag tries to establish itself.

Total Politics also has a website, which colleagues assure me is better than the magazine.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) on the Daily Mirror and a columnist for the New Statesman

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