By Paul Goodman
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As a former broadsheet Comment editor, I over-estimate the importance of comment pages, both on paper and online. Since the blogs, such as this one, now compete with them, fewer people read them – especially since the rise of the paywall. Then there's TV. Then there's Twitter. Then there's the rest of the new media…
So I declare an interest and a bias. But despite both, I think Fleet Street comment pages, broadsheet or tabloid, help to set the terms of political debate.
On the Telegraph, back in the mid-to-late '90s, it was almost impossible for a backbench MP to get a piece into the paper. He might just do it by attacking the leadership of his party, whatever that happened to be at the time. It is still extremely difficult to do. But members of the 2010 intake are gradually meeting the challenge. I cite from memory as examples:
- Dominic Raab's article in this morning's Financial Times (£) about the Assange impasse.
- David Rutley in the Telegraph earlier this week on business.
- Sajid Javid in the Times (£) on banking.
- Jesse Norman in the Guardian on the Big Society.
- Elizabeth Truss in the Times (£) on childcare.
- And, above all, Mike Weatherley in the Daily Mail on squatters. It is very hard indeed for a backbench MP – or a frontbench one for that matter – to get a piece in the Mail. A Gold Medal for that man!
What's changed? The MPs above know of what they write. That isn't confined to members of the 2010 intake. But most of them have somehow found a way of blending specialist knowledge and policy ideas: in effect, they're operating as One-Man Think Tanks. And they seem to have found a new generation of Editors who are willing to give the chance to think aloud.
Their energy and brains is good news at a dispiriting time. Perhaps they will make a medium-term difference to Britain; perhaps even a short-term one. I'm sorry so many of the pieces above are behind paywalls, and I apologise to other MPs of all intakes, who have also had articles in the papers which I haven't linked to, for leaving them out.