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12 April 2023

Mehdi Hasan on 110 years of the New Statesman: “David Cameron didn’t like me”

The MSNBC host recalls his time as the magazine’s senior editor (politics), 2009-2012.

By Harry Lambert

Mehdi Hasan was a 29-year-old ­television producer when he joined the New Statesman in 2009. “I was at Channel 4, with a great salary and benefits, and I had to explain to my wife and parents that I was going to take a pay cut to go and work for a small magazine that my wife had never heard of.”

Hasan, who was educated at Merchant Taylors’ School in north-west London and Christ Church, Oxford, had not written a ­column before. Yet under editor Jason Cowley, he became a prolific blogger, columnist and feature writer, a leading member of a group of new hires who “came with a lot of ambition and energy to try and turn the NS around. To make it more relevant, more newsy, more of a home for conversation. We had no online presence at that point.”

The defining moment of his tenure, Hasan reflects, was the formation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in 2010: “Nick Clegg and David Cameron didn’t like me.” He was a scourge of both men, arguing that Clegg had betrayed the left, and that Cameron was vastly overrated. He remembers with delight interviewing Sayeeda ­Warsi, the former Conservative Party chair, and hearing that Cameron was furious Hasan had been ­granted the interview.

In his writing, Hasan made the case against austerity, the prevailing economic orthodoxy of the era. “Now we all look back and say austerity was bad, but back then the NS was one of the only outlets saying that.”

Hasan left his staff role in 2012, but retained a column for years afterwards. “It’s like the Firm, you never get out,” he says. But it wasn’t the writing he enjoyed the most. “It was sitting in a meeting after the magazine had gone out, saying: what are we going to do next week? How are we going to cause trouble?”

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If Hasan were at the NS today, he says, he “would be a one topic person”, focused ­entirely on “race, immigration and [the policies of] Suella Braverman. I would be asking what Labour is doing about this – are they meeting fascism halfway?”

Hasan now hosts a politics show on MSNBC, based in Washington DC. He has been wrong before – he thought Ed Miliband would win in 2015 – but is uneasily hopeful about the 2024 presidential election. “I don’t see the independent voter who says, ‘I didn’t vote for Trump in 2020, but I definitely [am] now he’s got indictments under his belt.’”

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[See also: “It was an absolute riot”: Nine New Statesman political editors reunite]

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This article appears in the 12 Apr 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Anniversary Issue