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Last Updated: Monday, 21 March, 2005, 11:47 GMT
Pressing on
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Magazine

Lenin's statue
The Morning Star has ridden out the collapse of the Soviet bloc
Many newspaper readers might be surprised that the Morning Star is still published, others might dismiss it as a historical anomaly. But - somehow - the paper lives on even after the collapse of its beloved communism.

It's a sign of the times for old-style left-wingers that when they click on morningstar.co.uk they get a financial services website.

But the Morning Star, the left-wing daily newspaper, hasn't disappeared - it's still flying the flag in its 75th year. The political landscape might have changed utterly - and Soviet-style Communism might have been swept away - but the newspaper is still appearing each morning on the news stands.

Not without a struggle. Because unlike the other daily papers on the news racks, it depends on fund-raising drives by its readers, needing 16,000 in monthly donations and the proceeds of "jumble sales and second-hand book sales" to keep the paper afloat.

This could be taken as a symbolic comment on the decline of Communism - from superpower to jumble sales. And the paper's own fortunes have followed the rise and fall of the red star.

Morning Star stall at Trafalgar Square on Saturday
Forgotten but not gone: Stall at London's anti-war demo
In the 1940s, with the Soviet Union fighting alongside Britain against Nazi Germany, the newspaper, then called the Daily Worker, was selling 100,000 issues a day - and claiming a readership five times that size.

At present, it sells about 13,000 to 14,000 copies - and editor John Haylett says that perhaps only one in 10 of these readers would label themselves as communists.

Anyone buying the 60p tabloid will find some newspaper stalwarts (sports reports, record reviews and TV listings), alongside a news agenda heavily weighted towards the activities of trade unions, and the paper's own take on world affairs such as opposition to the Iraq war. Saturday's edition leads page four with a report on Cuban president Fidel Castro announcing a 7% revaluation of the Cuban currency.

'Broad church'

The newspaper is still linked to the Communist Party - but the editor says that the paper now appeals to a much wider spectrum of the broad left, rather than a narrowly dogmatic set of followers.

We have articles from people that at one time we would never have given the light of day to
John Haylett, Morning Star editor

This includes contributions from people like Ken Livingstone, Jon Pilger and George Galloway, he says. This follows other famous writers including Virginia Woolf.

"We have articles from people that at one time we would never have given the light of day to - like the Welsh and Scottish Nationalists, the Greens and regular contributions from church people."

A shift towards issues such as peace and the environment is literally a broad church approach - and Mr Haylett talks about the importance of finding ways of reaching agreement, when the far-left has in the past always been particularly good at disagreement.

The Morning Star's ideological path follows the Communist Party - which is not to be confused with the Communist Party of Great Britain or the Communist Party of Britain Marxist-Leninist.

And Mr Haylett wearily acknowledges the "Life of Brian" factor in this. Monty Python's parody of fractious political splinter groups, he said, showed the "faults that we had suffered from for decades".

Written off

But he says there is now much less rancour and in-fighting than in the 1960s and 1970s - and a movement towards consensus.

Yalta
Wartime sales of the Morning Star reached 100,000 copies per day

"This isn't opportunism. In order to gain change in Britain, we feel that it's necessary to have the broadest alliance of people, that would encompass people in the labour movement and broad democratic organisations."

But the paper, which changed its name to the Morning Star in 1966, is still linked in the public imagination to support for the Soviet-era regimes. And he says that it can be frustrating that the paper is still held to account for Stalin's misdemeanours.

"Things that happened in the Soviet Union 70 years ago are still being used as a stick to beat the Morning Star," he says.

But he's upbeat about the survival prospects of the paper - not least because it's had plenty of experience at being prematurely written off.

"When the paper came out on January 1st 1930, a journalist from the Daily Herald phoned up and asked 'Will you be coming out again tomorrow?'"

"There's always been that temporary nature - with people looking at the Morning Star and saying 'With what's happening at the moment it cannot survive'. But we always have done."

If there aren't so many communists to read the paper, he says there's still a broad-based politically-engaged readership. "They don't all have to be environmentally-friendly, trade union vegetarians or anything like that."

Editorial freedom?

He says that the paper also benefits from being unique in not taking a "pro-business" stance.

And the staffing of the paper is also unusual in that it recruits from among those who are politically sympathetic to its beliefs. Mr Haylett himself joined the paper more than 20 years ago - having been a painter and decorator for Hackney council before becoming a journalist.

On the question of his own editorial freedom from the co-operative that owns the paper, he says: "I have complete freedom, as much as any other editor. In other words I have freedom until I get the sack."

Anachronistic, individual and short of cash. If it isn't careful, the organ of the revolution could end up being considered a bit of an institution.


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