The Spectator

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
You gotta spin it to win it
Icon media.svg
Stop the presses!
We want pictures
of Spider-Man!
Extra! Extra!

The Spectator is a British right-wing magazine currently edited by Fraser Nelson. In 2004, it was bought by David and Frederick Barclay, who also own the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph (David died in January 2021).[1]

Although early in its history, it supported the Liberal Party, since the 1950s, it has been closely linked to the British Conservative Party, initially on the moderate wing, but more recently moving much further right.

In recent years, it has featured controversial journalists including Boris Johnson (later prime minister), Taki, and Toby Young.

It shouldn't be confused with The American Spectator,Wikipedia a conservative American magazine.


Although it is unconnected with the historic Enlightenment daily The SpectatorWikipedia founded by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele in 1711, The Spectator still has a very long history. It dates back to 1828 and Scottish publisher Robert Stephen Rintoul; initially, he intended it to be a "family paper", free from polemic, but it soon got involved in the campaign that led to the 1832 Great Reform Act, and it opposed the First Opium War.[2]

In 1858, it was bought by James McHenry and Benjamin Moran, two Americans, who redirected it in support of then-President of the United States James Buchanan, as well as the Democratic Party who had attempted to fudge over the issue of slavery, cheerleading him in the run up to the 1860 election won by Abraham Lincoln.[3] Around this time, it hired Leigh HuntWikipedia as a celebrity columnist. There are rumours it was also funded or secretly owned by then-Emperor of France Napoleon III,Wikipedia publishing a lot of pro-France material around 1860.[3] However, it supported the Union in the American Civil War, contrary to the British upper classes' support for the Confederacy. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the magazine was radically Liberal and pro-free trade. In 1924, it was sold to Evelyn Wrench, and in the 1930s, although it opposed fascism, it supported Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement.

Ownership and editorship in 1954 passed to Ian Gilmour, later a moderate Conservative politician known for his opposition to Margaret Thatcher; it opposed capital punishment and the Suez invasion and supported legalisation of homosexuality while generally being aligned to the liberal wing of the Conservative Party, with politicians such as Iain Macleod contributing.

In 1975, it was bought by Henry Keswick, a businessman whose family had a long history of trading in Hong Kong. With Alexander Chancellor as editor, it engaged famous writers including fogeyish humorist Auberon Waugh, distinguished war correspondent Richard West, notorious drunkard Jeffrey Bernard, and the even more notorious racist Taki Theodoracopulos.[4] Editorship then passed to Charles Moore (later of the Sunday Telegraph) and then Dominic Lawson, son of Tory Chancellor Nigel. In 1994, it published a controversial article "Kings of the Deal" by William Cash which claimed that Jews ran Hollywood, attracting allegations of antisemitism.[5]

In the era of Tony Blair, it tilted briefly towards New Labour under the editorship of Frank Johnson, but his replacement in 1999 was a more controversial figure: Boris Johnson (no relation). Boris left in 2005 to further his political career, and was replaced by Matthew d'Ancona, who in 2009 was succeeded by Fraser Nelson, who remains editor as of 2021. Fraser launched an American edition digitally in 2018 and on paper in 2019.


While the magazine has long been right-wing, and has had a certain amount of racist shock material (mostly from Taki) since the 1970s, it has since around 2000 gone in pursuit of political extremism, rejecting its old conservative values in favour of identitarian politics and an embrace of alt-right values in a culture war against immigrants, Europeans, and liberals. As Panjak Mishra wrote in 2017:

The Spectator, once suavely edited, now serves as a fraternity house for Douglas Murray, Toby Young, James Delingpole and Rod Liddle; pummelling Muslims and high-fiving on Brexit, these right-wing bros are to the posh periodicals what Jeremy Clarkson was to the BBC.[6]

Ian Buruma said of the change:

It used to be libertarian, cheeky. Now it’s like the Daily Mail. The difference is, I suppose, that its old spirit came from superiority. Now it comes from resentment and disappointment.[7]

Gavin Jacobson added:

The Spectator has become a sounding board for resentment, amplifying the catastrophist mentality that has gripped the right in Britain and the US.[7]


Many of its controversies have revolved around Taki. In 2003, under Boris Johnson's editorship, it was investigated by the crown prosecution service to see if an article by Taki violated section 19 of the Public Order Act; Taki complained about "black thugs" who "multiply like flies" and praised Enoch Powell, and the dispute led to black lawyer and judge Peter HerbertWikipedia receiving death threats.[8]

In 2018, The Spectator published an article by Taki that praised the Wehrmacht (who, in case you're historically oblivious, were the soldiers of Nazi Germany). The original headline/subheadline of the article read: "In praise of Wehrmacht: The real story of D-Day is the heroism of the German soldiers who were vastly outnumbered but fought nobly and to the death." This was later swapped out for something less obviously fascistic yet still offering wonderful false balance: "The other side of D-Day".[9][10] Even RT, a Putin asset, wasn't amused, and pointed out that this was a pattern: another article that Taki had written in 2007 for The Spectator read: "In praise of Mussolini".[11][12] Taki has also written multiple articles in defense of Golden Dawn, a Greek neo-Nazi party that was later declared a criminal organization by the Greek government, in a case that has been compared to the Nuremberg trials.[13][14][15]

Charles Moore[edit]

It was criticised in 2015 when Charles Moore wrote an article questioning whether Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall were pretty enough to lead the Labour Party, which was seen as somewhat sexist if not misogynistic, as it didn't apply similar standards to Andy Burnham and Ed Balls.[16]

Boris Johnson[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Boris Johnson

Britain's lovably dishevelled future prime minister edited the Spectator from 1999-2005. There were various controversies in this period. Johnson was known for his womanising, earning the publication the nickname The Sextator, including a relationship with journalist Petronella Wyatt which resulted in one abortion and one miscarriage. When challenged about this by his bosses at the Conservative Party, he lied; when he was proven to have lied, he was sacked by Tory leader Michael Howard. Toby Young and Lloyd Evans wrote a play called Who's The Daddy? about the scandal, to mixed reviews.[17][18][19]

He annoyed the entire population of Liverpool (traditionally of socialist leanings), when The Spectator accused the city of wallowing in victimhood over incidents such as the deaths of 96 football fans at Hillsborough in Sheffield and the murder of British engineer Ken Bigley by Islamist terrorists. The remarks were in an editorial by Simon Heffer, but Johnson as the editor was forced to apologise after criticism by Michael Howard.[20][21]

Johnson was involved in a feud with right-wing journalist Andrew Neil, who was appointed over him by the Barclays in 2004 when they bought The Spectator; the feud continued in the 2019 general election campaign, where Johnson refused to be interviewed by Neil.[22][23]

Rod Liddle[edit]

Rod Liddle is another odious columnist. In December 2017, he poked fun at Labour MP Rosie Duffield for speaking out about being a victim of domestic violence.[7] Liddle called Duffield "the sobbing and oppressed Rosie '#MeToo' Duffield"; she called him "racist and misogynist".

He has made frequently insulting or racist remarks about Islam and Muslims. These included in 2018: "If you are an unpleasant person who enjoys macabre entertainment, wander down to Mile End and watch the women in full burka trying to cross the A11. That’s always good for a laugh."[24] He also suggested in 2019 that the general election be held when students couldn't vote and "Muslims are forbidden from doing anything on pain of hell".[25]


See the main article on this topic: Alt-right

In the late 2010s, it became increasingly interested in the alt-right, with James Delingpole penning an article headlined "The alt-right isn’t all wrong". Delingpole defended his "friend and colleague" Milo Yiannopoulos, and insisted that the alt-right's antisemitism and racism were ignorable because "most of this stuff is confected and insincere".[26] He also cited Sargon of Akkad in defence of the white genocide conspiracy theory:

it’s about the idea that white culture (which they identify interchangeably with western civilisation) is under threat and must be preserved for the future of the race. Hence the alt-right’s violent objection to immigration; hence the nationalistic ‘America first’ theme of Trump’s campaigning: it all appeals to that increasingly popular impulse, from northern England to middle America to Angela Merkel’s immigrant-friendly Germany, that this represents ordinary white folks’ last chance to preserve their culture and traditions before they’re overwhelmed by the dusky hordes.[26]

Delingpole concluded:

Should more mainstream conservatives be worried by this? Well yes, of course, but they have largely themselves to blame. It’s why the alt-right refers to them disparagingly as ‘cuckservatives’ — that is, cuckolds whose spinelessness, compromise and me-too virtue signalling has enabled the social justice warriors of the progressive left to take so much territory.[26]


A 2021 study by the Muslim Council of Britain's Centre for Media Monitoring that looked at media coverage of Muslims and Islam in 34 publications found that The Spectator had the highest percentage of articles judged "antagonistic" to Muslims, 37.3% of all articles which mentioned the religion, and the highest proportion of articles which the study judged misrepresented Muslims and/or Islam, one in four. The Spectator also had the second highest negative bias of any publication studied, with 10.9% of relevant articles "very biased" (only Christian Today with 11.3% "very biased" was worse).[27] Rod Little has published multiple comments mocking or insulting Muslims, and Charles Moore, James Delingpole and Douglas Murray also expressed hostility to Muslims in The Spectator.[24]

Down Under[edit]

In 2008, under d'Ancona's editorship, the magazine started publishing an Australian edition of the magazine, which its regards as its sister publication.[28] This is basically the same magazine as the British version, but with the first few pages containing Australian commentary by AnglocentricWikipedia conservative commentators such as Tony Abbott,[29] Andrew Bolt,[30] One Nation's Mark Latham,[31] and Liberal's Matt Caravan.[32] It is currently edited by Rowan Dean, a Sky News Australia presenter and climate change denialist who notably doesn’t believe that the Great Barrier Reef is dying.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. See the Wikipedia article on David and Frederick Barclay.
  2. See the Wikipedia article on The Spectator.
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Press in a Mess, David Butterfield, History Today, Volume 70 Issue 5 May 2020
  4. What's the point of Taki if he isn't offensive any more?, The Independent, 23 Oct 2011
  5. Filthy is as filthy does, New Criterion, February 1995
  6. What Is Great about Ourselves, Panjak Mishra, London Review of Books, Vol. 39 No. 18. 21 September 2017
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Why the Spectator tolerates the intolerable, Gavin Jacobson, New Statesman, November 2019
  8. Spectator and its Tory MP editor may face charges over Taki race rant, The Guardian, 28 Feb 2003
  9. "Spectator publishes article calling Nazis heroes of D-Day". The Jewish News.
  10. James Walker (April 5, 2019). "Spectator editor Fraser Nelson claims power of editors 'comically overstated' in 500th issue under his editorship". The Press Gazette.
  11. (May 17, 2018). "'In praise of the Wehrmacht' - Twitter outrage at sneaky Spectator Nazi army headline swap". RT.
  12. Taki (September 22, 2007). "In praise of Mussolini". The Spectator.
  13. Alex Andreou (August 10, 2015). "Golden Dawn definitely not Nazis, photos confirm". Byline.
  14. Chris York (July 23, 2013). "Spectator Article Defending Greece's Golden Dawn By Taki Theodoracopulos Causes Uproar". The Huffington Post.
  15. Georgios Samaras (November 26, 2020). "The end of Golden Dawn: has Greece shown us how to deal with neo-Nazis?". The Conversation.
  16. Spectator magazine under fire for article on Liz Kendall's and Yvette Cooper's looks, ITV News, 23 August 2015
  17. The 10 ages of Boris Johnson: a guide to his road to power, The Guardian, 21 July 2019
  18. For Boris Johnson’s wife, it’s one affair too many. But his party doesn’t care, Suzanne Moore, The Guardian, 7 Sep 2018
  19. Who's the Daddy?, Michael Billington, The Guardian, 26 July 2005
  20. See the Wikipedia article on Kidnapping and murder of Kenneth Bigley.
  21. In one article, Boris manages to offend an entire city & and his boss, Ian Herbert, The Independent
  22. A Visit With Andrew Neil, Spectator Publisher and Boris Johnson’s Old Boss, NY Magazine, Feb 14, 2020
  23. When Andrew Neil called out Boris Johnson, he was making a big mistake on behalf of the BBC, i News, 17 Dec 2019
  24. 24.0 24.1 New Study Highlights Anti-Muslim Bigotry Of the Spectator Magazine, Brian Cathcart, Byline Times, 30 Nov 2021
  25. Outrage over Rod Liddle's misogynistic attack on Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield, Kent Live, 1 Nov 2019
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 The alt-right isn’t all wrong, James Delingpole, The Spectator, 30 July 2016
  27. British Media’s Coverage of Muslims & Islam (2018-2020), Faisal Hanif, Centre for Media Monitoring, Muslim Council of Britain, 2021
  28. The Spectator Australia
  29. [1]
  30. [2]
  31. [3]
  32. [4]