A Different Take on Evgeny Lebedev

Couple of productive days on Volume 3. I’ve now finished 51 cartoons and a few more are new favourites. Another 4 to go before I can think about finishing. I’ve also drawn the cover and given it a suitably “keywordy” title. It’s crass of me, I know, but I’m not too proud to admit that I’m aiming for key demographics… Bit of a last shake of the dice if I’m honest. As I sit here today and as much as I’d love to carry on, I doubt if there’ll be a Volume 4. Not now that my peerage has fallen through. They gave it Evgeny Lebedev instead…

I doubt if anybody will agree with what I’m about to write but I’ll write it anything. Sometimes thoughts and arguments rattle around in my head and it’s good to see them settle on the page, even if they’re not fully developed.

It’s a strange one. Evgeny Lebedev’s peerage doesn’t strike me as egregious in the way that Botham’s elevation gets to me. I suppose this is linked to my cartooning and this blog, albeit in a slightly tangential way. Why should there be so much controversy about Lebedev getting a peerage? (No doubt somebody will tell me but since I don’t know any society gossip, I’ll just leave that question hanging there.)

Ah, we might say: Russian money. Well, perhaps. Hard to say, isn’t it? The guy has lived in the UK since he was eight years old and runs one of the country’s smaller “big” newspapers. Anybody living here since they were eight are unlikely to be in Putin’s pocket. So, are we just being a bit xenophobic or is there more to it than that?

I honestly don’t know.

The Russia Report talked about the influence of Russian money in the UK but, again, how much of this is Russian money? Where do we draw the line? My grandmother was Lithuanian, but I remember my Dad often muttering that he suspected we might be Russian. I could just have been easily writing this blog under a surname that’s about a yard long and I would still not know how to spell. If I had money, would some clever type link me to Putin? It’s probably not impossible.

Set aside the perception that Johnson is rewarding his friends, which I admit looks particularly deranged this time, what worries me is the future of journalism, especially independent (small i) journalism. Very few of the super wealthy are willing to invest in newspapers. At times, it seems even fewer ordinary people are willing to pay for the written word. Sales are down. News aggregators are where the money is at. Creators are being screwed by the middlemen. People complain when websites are plastered in advertising but what’s the alternative? I’d be interest to see how much The Guardian gets for their incessant begging.

I suspect the people who shout the loudest about “the press” are often the people who don’t pay for their press. Those that criticise writers are those that don’t write but expect people to work for nothing. “Oh, it’s only because you got paid for that” is about the most demeaning argument you can make to a writer. Yet it’s also not entirely without merit. I’ve never been so well connected to have that happen to me, but I can see from a distance how relationships are formed with outlets. Read a newspaper not for the content but for the pitches and you’d see what I mean. Dull articles often have clever premises. You can see how they were sold long before they were written.

I also accept that there are different levels of writers. Some columnists for the big nationals earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a year writing copy which (I hope I don’t flatter myself) is sometimes significantly less decent than anything you’d find on this blog. Well, okay, perhaps I do flatter myself – especially if this post is the measure. However, I’d happy put my better articles up against their better articles and challenge you to spot the half a million quid a year writer and spot the guy who has earned maybe £200 quid in coffees for approaching two years of solid work.

So, much as I’d like to join in the chorus of people decrying Evgeny Lebedev, I’m also aware that he’s one of the few people putting money into an industry that is dying a slow death. I have lots of issues with Jeff Bezos and his wealth but his ownership of The Washington Post certainly isn’t one of them.

Am I naïve or pragmatic? Corrupt or realistic? There’ll be some that welcome the death of journalism. Some that say that it is getting what it deserves because it wasn’t (pick your preference) right wing/left wing enough. I can’t agree. I worry about any future where journalism will be shaded by partisanship. I worry about a future when journalism will be free because that’s when it will be truly open to corruption.

6 thoughts on “A Different Take on Evgeny Lebedev”

  1. I agree with you broad points about journalism but disagree on this case. I thought it was well known that he did have business links and dealings in Russia where corruption is basically required? Also, AGAIN witn the Botham bashing?? *sigh* No great fan but I cannot understand your negatively comparing him to Lebedev. I know I maybe have a different perspective on him as one of the main beneficiaries of his charity work was my local hospital. Still you seem almost fixated. Surely hes more deserving than Jo Johnson and Philip May??? And then theres the whole concept on the House of Lords which I’m surprised your not even mentioning.

    1. Ah, okay. There is a bit of a back story with this. First, I was a huge cricket fan as a kid. I mean *huge* cricket fan. I was obsessed with cricket. Carried a cricket bat around with me all the time. Played constantly. Was the captain of my school team. Opened the batting and the bolwing. Played for a brief period for the local county and, even as a kid, in the odd adult team. For a time, it was my dream to play professionally. I was even at Old Trafford on the day Shane Warne bowled the ‘ball of the century’ around Mike Gatting’s defence. I was also a big fan of Geoff Boycott (pre the modern Boycott about whom I have very different feelings). Boycott was the self-made great batsman. He worked harder than any other cricketer to make the most of his talents. I admired that and practised constantly. I even wrote to him. Have his autograph somewhere. Botham, by contrast, was the player who abused his prodigeous talents. Drinker. Lad. Even at a young ago, I disliked that. Disliked the way he’d always tell the story of him running out Boycott. So, I grew up taking a side in the Boycott/Botham feud, but that was easy. For a time, English cricket treated “Beefy” (a nickname I also came to hate) as their golden child, made him national captain when he was singularly unsuited to the role because of his ego. Botham also had a reputation of a bully as a player and it didn’t change after he retired and became a commentator. I’m also old enough to remember all his extra marital stuff in the papers, plus the drugs, plus the internet photo which perhaps wasn’t him but it fit the profile. Then there was the fight with Ian Chappel. Then there’s just his attitude which rubs me up the wrong way. Sometimes in life you find that. Sometimes you just have a feeling about somebody and that’s how I feel about Botham. I just don’t like the “lad’s together” attitude that pervades some of the Test Match coverage. Needless to say: I think he’s totally unsuited to the Lords and I’m surprised it even attracts him. Botham sitting in a debate just doesn’t strike me as likely. So, yes, he’s done good things in his life but my history with Botham is so much deeper than that. Botham represents a model for success that just doesn’t fit with my outlook on life, which is about hard work, effort, dedication, etc…

      As I said, I’m not aware (or perhaps don’t remember) much about the business links and dealings in Russia. I have huge reservations about the Russia Report and the infliltration of Russians into British society. I’ve written about that enough. Just this once, however, I tried to view it from the other side. Yes, I accept he might have bought his way into respectable society. I don’t discount that. I just wanted to voice an alternative point of view, which I also hold. I think that’s sometimes important. It’s entirely possible to hold two completely constradictory points of view at the same time. And that is that I’m thankful that somebody is putting money into journalism who isn’t a former pornographer.

      House of Lords: doesn’t bear worth repeating and I’d written enough. I think it’s an anachronism and needs fixing. That’s my one reservation about these honours. Even if Johnson isn’t trying to destroy them, I think these appointments work to that end.

  2. I quite like the idea of the House of Lords in that it doesn’t have to pander to the popular vote which is what we’ve seen happen so often in House of Commons over the last few years. However, not so sure about the calibre/public service ethos of the people appointed to it. However, are there more charlatans now or did we just not know about them in the past? And do you think anyone else (possibly a fan of deck shoes?) might be disappointed?

    1. As with a lot of things, it’s probably a mixture. In the past, hereditary peers meant that young men entered the Lords simply because of their birthright. Some will have been good and some terrible: pretty much following life’s great distribution curve of ability.

      I too like the idea of the Lords but I wouldn’t mind so much if we really followed the American model of the Senate and House of Representatives (which is just their slightly more secular/democratic version of Westminster). I’m sure we could figure a better way of electing them. Perhaps offsetting them two years into the cycle so one of houses is close to the mood of the nation.

      As for the quality of the people: I have no problem with ex politicians working there. I have more of a problem of people with no legislative experience. As far as cricket is concerned, I’d have had a lot more respect if they’d elevated, say, Mike Brearley. A clever man (a trained psychoanalyst), a long-time servant to English cricket, and one of our finest captains.

  3. Funny thing is I agree with everything that you said about Botham, all of it. It’s just that this is such a gallery of…rogues (I’m trying to be nice!) that he is far from the most contemptible. I would argue that the obvious objection does often bare repeating to prove (if only to ourselves) that we dont accept the status quo. I take your point about being able to hold contradictory views. Its something I try to do but dont often find easy. I think I would personally probably prefer pornographers controlling the media than corrupt Russian businessmen. But that’s a hell of a choice!

    1. This gets interesting and into dark waters so quickly. Pick your poison: pornographers or corrupt Russian businessmen? If feels like the ending of Casino, when (from memory, I might be wrong) De Niro reflects on how Vegas was better under the mob that under the control of “clean” corporations that aren’t guided by any moral code. The thing is: they’re both bad but that “badness” seems of a different nature. Pornographers are pornographers by choice; Russian business men simply survivors in a corrupt world which, in the most cynical view, is no different to how business works. It’s all very Le Carre in ‘Out Kind of Traitor’ but I recently read the ‘Dark Towers’ book about Trump’s finances and even the legal stuff around Deutche Bank was shady.

      Not really an answer and I suppose a depressing realisation that I might corruptible, though you can never tell until tested…

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