The Westminster Gazette

The Westminster Gazette was an influential Liberal newspaper based in London. It was known for publishing sketches and short stories, including early works by Raymond Chandler, Anthony Hope, D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, and Saki, and travel writing by Rupert Brooke. One of its editors was caricaturist and political cartoonist Francis Carruthers Gould. The paper was dubbed the "pea-green incorruptible" – Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone having personally approved its green colour.[1]

The Westminster Gazette
Owner(s)George Newnes (1893–1908)
Alfred Mond (1908–c. 1921)
Weetman Pearson, 1st Viscount Cowdray (c. 1921–1928)
EditorE. T. Cook (1893–1896)
J. A. Spender (1896–1921)
J. B. Hobman (1921–1928)
Founded31 January 1893
Political alignmentLiberal
Ceased publication31 January 1928
HeadquartersLondon, England

Launched with the help of Liberal publisher George Newnes, the paper was started by E. T. Cook on 31 January 1893,[2] employing the core of the old political staff from The Pall Mall Gazette. The paper quickly established itself in the front rank of Liberal publications, earning the respect and admiration of the Liberal prime minister Lord Rosebery.

Cook served as editor until 1896, when he resigned his position to take over as editor of the Liberal The Daily News. Though a number of prominent individuals applied to succeed him, George Newnes decided to offer the editorship to J. A. Spender, then only 33 years of age. Though Spender himself was modest about his prospects, his selection was met with approval by many in the Liberal ranks, including the head of the party Lord Rosebery.[3]

When launched, it was printed on green paper (which it retained throughout its time as an evening publication), intended to make it easier to read by homegoing workers under artificial light on a train or omnibus.[4] Under Spender's direction, however, The Westminster Gazette became a "clubland paper" whose target reader was a gentleman relaxing in his club between work and the night's social events. As such it had a tiny market, with circulations on a scale that modern-day political blogs might hope to exceed. The 1949 Royal Commission on the Press estimates that a typical clubland paper sold "about 5,000" a day in the 19th century; the newspaper designer and historian Allen Hutt suggests "an average of no more than around 20,000 at best". Like political blogs, clubland papers could rely on the amplifying effect of a link economy. In The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain, Stephen Koss puts it from the point of view of Spender: "The stature of a journal was measured by the gratitude it received from those whom it praised, the resentment it incurred from those whom it censured, and 'above all' – according to J. A. Spender – by the number of lesser journals that duplicated its contents."

This link economy brought The Westminster a reputation in some circles as "the most powerful paper in Britain". It did not bring money: the paper never turned a profit in three decades of existence. The veteran editor Frederick Greenwood regarded The Westminster Gazette under Spender as "the best-edited paper in London,"[5] and it became essential reading for politicians on both sides of the political aisle. The paper's priority was Liberal unity. It balanced ideological expression, avoiding the polemical heights attained by other Liberal publications. Though this occasionally earned Spender the ire of both Liberal factions in a debate, his loyalty to the Liberal leadership was rewarded with their confidences, which provided him with invaluable insight into the inner workings of contemporary politics.[6]

Spender greatly valued his editorial independence, which was never an issue with The Gazette's owner, George Newnes. When Newnes sold the paper in 1908 to a consortium of Liberal businessmen and politicians led by Alfred Mond, however, Spender found his cherished independence under pressure. Only internal disagreement within the ownership group saved Spender from dismissal. The dispute hurt staff morale, while the start of the First World War led several important staff members to leave for service in the armed forces.

A growing decline in circulation and revenue led Spender and the owners to undertake the radical move of switching from an evening to a morning publication in November 1921. Weetman Pearson, 1st Viscount Cowdray who was the title's lead shareholder at the time, carried through a plan to relaunch The Westminster as a national morning paper of less exalted character. The new paper, however, was no longer a vehicle for the sort of reflective journalism characteristic of Spender, and he resigned from his position in February 1922.[6][7] Lord Northcliffe, whose Evening News was the capital's bestseller in the early 1920s, described the new Westminster as "about as good as my first oil-well and pipeline establishment would be", and condemning it for "ignorance, provincialism, extravagance, mismanagement and muddle". Less partisan observers were not much kinder.

By 1925 the new-look Westminster Gazette claimed daily sales of 250,000 – and weekly losses of £2,000. It was merged into its leading Liberal rival, Daily News on 1 February 1928.[2]