Stephen Bush has been the New Statesman’s special correspondent since 2016. He composes the magazine’s ‘Morning Call’ email.Noah Froud

Stephen Bush, special correspondent at the New Statesman, has a “very unscientific approach to political journalism”. He divides his time in Westminster between his desk and simply walking around the estate. “If you keep walking round eventually you trip over a story, or you meet someone with something interesting to say, or sometimes inspiration strikes you.”

But Bush has written before about how his position as one of the foremost political journalists of our day was never guaranteed. Bush read History at Balliol College, Oxford, and recently noted the importance of the friendships he made there to landing his first contracted job in journalism. “I think the problem we have as an industry is that it’s hard to get into it if you don’t know someone in it.” This gives those with connections from their time at elite universities an advantage, “It feels like a lot of journalists either went to Oxford or Cambridge or they are related to a journalist.”

In his case, the first contracted job he had was previously held by someone he went to Oxford with. They promised to show their boss some of Bush’s freelance work, so in their words, “they’ll know that you’re good.” Ultimately, “that is kind of the problem” with the industry.

The influence of personal connections runs deep, meaning Bush is sceptical about whether institution-blind job applications would offer increased diversity. These applications don’t feature the name of the university the applicant went to, supposedly preventing bias towards particular elite institutions. The problem for Bush is that, “if you don’t control for university choice, you just reward people with the social advantages of having gone to particular universities.” Organisations might insist they don’t ask, but through the influence of social connections, still end up with a staff dominated by those who went to these institutions.

“If you want to increase state school participation in any industry, just increase the number of people from STEM subjects”

Stephen Bush

The collapse of the payment model in journalism doesn’t help this. The problem is the industry’s first response to financial hardship is then to say, “Oh well, we’ll cut being good on diversity.”

Despite this, he praises the New Statesman’s internship for people from an ethnic minority with a science background. This aims to reduce the traditional arts domination, “which explains why we’re so bad at covering any kind of science or climate change issue.” Similarly, he argues that “if you want to increase state school participation in any industry, just increase the number of people from STEM subjects – because that is already 80-90% state.”

I ask if he’s ever conscious of the financial difficulties when writing, but he’s clear there isn’t “an editorial solution to the financial problem. The editorial solution has to be to produce work that you believe in, think is good enough for people to pay for and then find ways of getting people to pay for it.

“If you look at the places where the industry has gone wrong and done things it shouldn’t have, it’s places where the ‘how do we make money from this?’ question and the ‘how do we make things good?’ question swamp one another.”

“I just think that what’s on the music radio is much more important than what’s on the Today programme”

Stephen Bush

Turning to politics, we talk about the moment Bush started to suspect June’s general election might deliver a major upset. He realised a shock result might be on the cards was when he was sent to Gower, a seat which had narrowly voted Conservative in 2015. “If the polls had been right it ought to have felt like such a walkover for the Conservatives and instead I just thought, ‘this feels kind of Labour-y.’ And you just thought ‘well if this feels quite Labour-y then something has gone wrong for the campaign’.”

On top of this, Bush has another rule that made him suspect something was up; “I just think that what’s on the music radio is much more important than what’s on the Today programme, because everyone who listens to that is a decided voter who’s already made up their mind.”

“It just felt very clear to me, just listening to 6 Music and Radio 3, Labour just had a much more compelling message.” With Conservative defensiveness apparent even in the written press, that’s when he started to say “‘look, whatever the result, Labour are going to win the campaign’ – but I wasn’t sure if that was going to lead to them doing better with the result.”

Every election, Bush carries out a post-mortem of what he got right and wrong in his coverage and predictions. “I realised that in the in the liveblog before the result came out I said that there were two results I could understand. The first is a hung parliament, and the second would have been, weirdly, a Tory landslide.”


Mountain View

Interview: Robert Peston

To Bush, the result that seemed least likely was a minor Conservative success with a small majority of 40 or so seats. Either the election campaign was significant and then they’d draw or it wasn’t significant – in which case the result before the election campaign, with a massive Conservative majority, would’ve happened. “That weird, ‘oh it’s going to be somewhere in between’, I didn’t get that at all.”

After June’s result Bush doesn’t expect a Labour leadership contest before the next election. When it does eventually happen, “the two people who start off in a really strong position to fight it are Emily Thornberry and Angela Rayner.”

With two very strong women in the running and considering “it is a bit embarrassing” that Labour hasn’t had a woman lead the party yet, Bush feels that “the argument will start to be ‘let’s have an all-woman field.’” It would be very hard for people like Keir Starmer or Chukka Umunna disrupt that and say “actually, no, let’s have a man as well”. Bush notes others like Lisa Nandy could “make a go of it” and “Yvette Cooper still has enough of a shadow operation that she might be able to do it again, although I think she will struggle for nominations a bit compared to last time.” There’s also the prospect of someone from the “old Blairite wing” standing with the expectation of losing but still trying to have some impact on the debate. “Just like Jeremy Corbyn did”, the other interviewer from The Cambridge Student remarks dryly

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