This article is from the December issue of Total Politics
Welcome to the fourth annual Total Politics journalists poll. Below, you will find the best newshounds, columnists, trend analysers and polemicists currently writing about politics in Britain. The following 100 journalists were picked by Total Politics readers, politicians and journalists themselves.
This past year has seen political stories on widespread rioting across Britain, Liam Fox’s resignation, phone hacking, the AV referendum, our involvement in Libya and the ongoing eurozone crisis. It also marked the end of an era, with the closure of the News of the World in July by James Murdoch over the phone-hacking scandal. Its political journalists are no longer part of the press gallery in Parliament and it has left a gap in Sunday’s political coverage. It was, in many ways, a memorable year for political journalism.
The survey listed over 300 journalists, with each respondent asked to rate as many as they liked from one (least rated) to 10 (most rated).
While there are many familiar faces in the results, there are some eyebrow-raising risers and new faces. When you turn overleaf you will spot a number of surprises – including a veteran who has mastered Twitter and broken into our top three.
There is also a columnist shooting from nowhere up the ranks into the top 10, proving what a crucial, epoch-defining story the eurozone crisis is. Predictably, there are a large number of BBC journalists, far higher than any other media organisation. It remains the predominant media power in Britain, and BBC journalists remain the most popular in their industry among our readers.
One highlight is that while certain figures have been perennial fixtures, there is also significant movement year-on-year indicating the keen competition and ability for journalists to receive recognition for outstanding years.
One disappointing trend remains the low level of female journalist in the top 50, with only seven found in the top 50 and only one in the top 10. The list certainly can’t be described as ethnically diverse either.
Working in Westminster remains the high point of many journalists’ careers. It can be difficult to break into, is immensely hard work, but also intensely satisfying to cover – from the decisions made at the top table to being a crucial check on power. These are currently the finest 100 members of the political journalism craft.
1 (1) Nick Robinson, political editor, BBC News
For the third year running, Robinson has been voted Britain’s number one political journalist. No other political journalist can compete with his reach across the BBC One, Two and BBC News television channels and Radio 4. He completed his second eight-part series for Radio 4 of The Prime Ministers, broadcast between April and June this year. His former colleague at the BBC, Craig Oliver, became David Cameron’s director of communications in February, following Andy Coulson’s resignation.
At the time there was speculation that Robinson had recommended Oliver to Downing Street, although he claimed to be “shocked” by Oliver’s appointment. He has been in the role since 2005 and rumours continue about his next move, with the position of Today programme host being one hotly-tipped alternative. But, for the moment, Robinson is staying put.
2 (3) Andrew Marr, presenter, Andrew Marr Show
Marr’s Sunday morning show remains a mainstay of the weekly political schedule. One particular highlight was an exclusive interview with US President Barack Obama in May. His favourite guest seems to be William Hague who has been on the show seven times since February. He has also written a book called The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II and Her People ahead of next year’s jubilee. In April this year Marr’s personal life was dragged onto the front pages after he revealed in a Daily Mail interview that he had taken out a super-injunction to stop a story about an extra-marital affair getting out in 2008. Private Eye editor Ian Hislop led the charge to have the super-injunction overturned. Marr said he was “uneasy” and “embarrassed” about gagging other journalists but defended his original decision on the grounds that he was trying to protect his family.
3 (79) John Rentoul, chief political commentator, The Independent on Sunday
A spectacular leap up the rankings from 79 last year for Rentoul – an impressive feat. He is probably the most high-profile defender of Tony Blair’s record in the British media, in a year when the mere mention of the former PM’s name provoked boos at the Labour Party conference. His column in The Independent on Sunday has become one of the last bastions of pure, unadulterated Blairism, and he continues to be a critic of Ed Miliband’s leadership, using his column during September to launch an attack on the Labour leadership for trying to move the party to the left. Will Rentoul tire of campaigning for high journalism standards? As he might say, that’s a QTWTAIN.
4 (–) Jeremy Paxman, presenter, Newsnight
The so-called ‘Paxman premium’ has made the veteran Newsnight presenter indispensible. When Paxman is presenting, the Newsnight audience hovers around 750,000, a figure that exceeds that of his nearest competitor, Emily Maitlis, by more than 50,000.
5 (38) Fraser Nelson, editor, The Spectator
Nelson, a former News of the World columnist, described the paper’s closure as “the end of an era of investigatory journalism”. He has been editor of The Spectator since 2009, taking over from Matthew d’Ancona. He is also a prolific TV pundit.
6 (NE) Andrew Alexander, columnist, Daily Mail
At six, Alexander is the highest new entry to the top 100 this year. He is one of many vocal eurosceptics to jump up the rankings. Since mid-summer, his column has been filled with little apart from increasingly apocalyptic warnings about the impending collapse of the euro.
7 (8) Andrew Neil, presenter, Daily Politics/This Week
Neil remains one of Britain’s most effective political interviewers. His jovial demeanour is used to lull many interviewees into a false sense of security, only for Neil to pounce with some forensic detail that clinches the argument.
8 (16) Adam Boulton, political editor, Sky News
Boulton has been the political editor for Sky News since the channel first went on air in 1989. In January 2011, he gave up his Sunday morning slot to launch a new weekday programme, Boulton & Co, also writing regularly for the blog of the same name.
9 (7) Andrew Rawnsley, chief political commentator, The Observer
Rawnsley’s column in The Observer remains an important opinion-former in and around Westminster. His interviews this year (with Chris Huhne and Yvette Cooper) were once again highlights of the party conference fringe season.
10 (66) Polly Toynbee, columnist, The Guardian
Veteran Toynbee remains immensely popular. She recently championed the cause of the Occupy London protesters encamped outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, arguing that their stand against corporate greed represents the new mainstream. She was also involved in a heated exchange with Jonathan Isaby from the TaxPayers’ Alliance on Sky News, in which she told him: “If you stood for taxpayers then you’d be out there with them.”
11 (6) Matthew Parris, columnist, The Times/The Spectator
The former Conservative MP’s Saturday column in The Times is considered essential reading by many in Westminster. He has a penchant for holding opinions that go against the grain. Parris has written scathingly about the localism agenda, and was a long-time defender of the yah-boo politics of PMQs, although he recently changed his mind.
12 (11) Jon Snow, presenter, Channel 4 News
Snow has been the face (and colourful ties and socks) of Channel 4 News since 1989. Snow’s Twitter account is more popular than any other news anchor in Britain, with his 100,000th follower winning a trip to the studio in July this year. He has now been joined on a revamped 7pm show by Matt Frei and Cathy Newman.
13 (47) Peter Oborne, chief political commentator, The Daily Telegraph
Oborne continues to be one of the most bullish media critics of the EU. This autumn he co-authored a pamphlet, Guilty Men, attacking European integrationists among the British political class. In September, he also presented Dispatches, chronicling Tony Blair’s business dealings since leaving office.
In Private Eye, he is referred to as Peter O’bore.
14 (-) Christopher Booker, columnist, The Sunday Telegraph
The veteran Sunday Telegraph columnist is yet another outspoken critic of the EU who has rocketed up the rankings this year. For good measure, Booker is also skeptical about global warming, and has courted controversy by claiming that evidence to prove passive smoking and exposure to asbestos cause cancer “does not exist”.
15 (23) Quentin Letts, sketchwriter, Daily Mail
The prolific Letts, once again, is the highest placed of the political sketchwriters. In an interview with Total Politics in October, Letts admitted that Polly Toynbee’s Guardian columns were his guilty pleasure, describing them as “unintentionally some of the finest comic writing de nos jours”. He also suggested that Labour MP Rachel Reeves reminded him of Bernard Bresslaw of Carry On fame.
16 (60) Benedict Brogan, deputy editor, The Daily Telegraph
Since re-joining The Daily Telegraph as an assistant editor in February 2009, Brogan has gone from strength to strength. His midweek column is a highlight and his Morning Briefing email is an important resource for fellow journalists and political junkies alike.
17 (2) Laura Kuenssberg, business editor, ITV News
Kuenssberg falls 15 places this year after leaving the BBC over the summer to become ITV News’ business editor. In her new role, she contributes regularly to the ITV1 News bulletins and the Tonight programme.
18 (30) Michael White, assistant editor, The Guardian
White has now been at The Guardian for more than four decades, starting as a feature writer for the paper in 1971. Since then, he has held a variety of posts, including parliamentary sketchwriter, Washington correspondent and political editor.
19 (42) David Dimbleby, presenter, Question Time
The 73-year-old Dimbleby is still going strong after almost five decades at the BBC. In 2011, Question Time was broadcast for the first time in its 32-year history from inside a prison (Wormwood Scrubs in May) and from inside the Palace of Westminster (Westminster Hall in November).
20 (48) Boris Johnson, columnist, The Daily Telegraph
The London mayor has used his Daily Telegraph column to rail against various injustices, ranging from the way “the Scottish tail wags the British bulldog” when it comes to daylight savings, to the BBC’s “puerile political correctness” in wanting to replace BC/AD with BCE/CE. In August he penned one of the more idiosyncratic responses to the riots, calling for youngsters from deprived backgrounds in inner cities to be introduced to cricket.
21 (46) Paul Waugh, editor, PoliticsHome.com
Just over a year after leaving his position as deputy political editor of the Evening Standard to become editor of PoliticsHome, Waugh’s strong performance is testament to the growing prestige of online media. His blog, The Waugh Room, has broken many Westminster stories in the last 15 months.
22 (25) Ann Treneman, sketchwriter, The Times
The US-born Treneman remains one of the sharpest wits in Westminster. This year saw the publication of Treneman’s book, Dave & Nick: The Year of the Honeymoon, a humorous account of the coalition’s first year.
23 (24) John Humphrys, presenter, Today programme
Another BBC stalwart, Humphrys’ combative style continues to make him one of the most feared interviewers. He is respected by other journalists from across the political spectrum. The Daily Mail once described him as “one of the most brilliant journalists in the country”.
24 (21) Simon Hoggart, sketchwriter, The Guardian
Hoggart has been The Guardian’s parliamentary sketchwriter since 1993. This year, he has been a regular tormenter of the prime minister, especially on the sensitive issue of the PM’s bald patch, which Hoggart compared to “a goujon of plaice” from Marks and Spencer.
25 (20) Matthew D’Ancona, columnist, The Sunday Telegraph/Evening Standard/GQ
D’Ancona’s Sunday Telegraph column is treated as the best insight into Cameronism by Conservative MPs. In October he was named ‘Commentariat of the Year’ at Editorial Intelligence’s annual Comment Awards.
26 (13) James Naughtie, presenter, Today programme
Naughtie dropped 13 places this year, perhaps due to his famous slip of the tongue as he was introducing Jeremy Hunt on the Today programme last year. Despite some outrage and much laughter, he is still going strong after 17 years as a presenter.
27 (36) Patrick Wintour, political editor, The Guardian
The brother of American Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Patrick has also worked at the New Statesman and The Observer. He writes The Guardian’s Wintour and Watt blog, with Nicholas Watt, and finishes four places above his wife, Rachel Sylvester.
28 (27) Trevor Kavanagh, associate editor, The Sun
After 23 years as The Sun’s political editor, Kavanagh became associate editor in 2005. He still writes a political column every Monday, as well as regular commentaries. This year he defended tabloids at the Leveson inquiry.
29 (NE) Catherine Mayer, London bureau chief, Time Magazine
American-born Mayer has worked at The Economist, the Foreign Press Association and the German news-weekly Focus. This year her book Amortality was released, questioning the concept of defining people by age.
30 (57) David Aaronovitch, columnist, The Times
With the Orwell Prize, several books and documentaries under his belt, Aaronovitch has cast his net wide. He has written for the New Statesman, The Jewish Chronicle and The Independent. His regular column appears on Thursdays in The Times.
31 (70) Rachel Sylvester, political interviewer and columnist, The Times
Previously political editor of The Independent on Sunday, Sylvester’s political column appears in The Times on Tuesdays, and she also conducts a weekly interview with Alice Thomson. Interviewees this year have included Ed Balls, who spoke about his stutter, saying he found The King’s Speech “incredibly stressful to watch”, as well as Michael Heseltine who was described as “the prime minister who never was”.
32 (54) Steve Richards, chief political columnist, The Independent
Columnist, and author of Whatever it Takes: The Real Story of Gordon Brown and New Labour, Richards has crossed the media spectrum, presenting Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster and hosting political theatre through his Rock ‘n’ Roll Politics series.
33 (NE) Melanie Phillips, columnist, Daily Mail
With controversial opinions on just about everything, Phillips is easily one of the most recognisable female columnists in the game. She moved on from her blog at The Spectator this year, and continues to defend “authentic liberal values”.
34 (17) Jeremy Vine, presenter, BBC Radio 2
His Radio 2 show is extremely popular, although he no longer has a regular presenting spot on Panorama. Vine began his career making tea and doing research in the Northern Ireland BBC newsroom before becoming a reporter for Radio 4.
35 (67) Simon Jenkins, columnist, The Guardian/Evening Standard
Sir Simon has built up an impressive portfolio over the years, as editor of The Times and the Evening Standard. Chairman of the National Trust since 2008, he has spent much of this year tackling the government on changes to the planning system, describing proposed reforms as “a recipe for civil war”.
36 (68) Patrick Hennessy, political editor, The Sunday Telegraph
Political editor since 2004, Hennessy has worked in the lobby since 1992. Comparing The Sunday Telegraph to other papers, he called it “more of a serious read in many ways. We won’t run a story unless we are convinced it is accurate and newsworthy”.
37 (33) Jon Sopel, presenter, The Politics Show
Jon hosts the The Politics Show and The Campaign Show for the BBC. He made headlines this year when Chris Huhne admitted on his show that he had tipped off a journalist about Theresa May’s apparent use of a Nigel Farage speech.
38 (91) Charles Moore, columnist, The Daily Telegraph
Moore has edited The Spectator, The Sunday Telegraph, and The Daily Telegraph where he now writes an op-ed on Saturdays, and a column that appears on Mondays. He is also the official biographer of Margaret Thatcher.
39 (80) Jonathan Freedland, columnist, The Guardian
As well as writing a weekly column for The Guardian Freedland also presents Radio 4’s history series The Long View. A bestselling author, Freedland has written books under his own name as well as using the pseudonym ‘Sam Bourne’.
40 (15) John Pienaar, chief political correspondent, BBC Radio 5 Live
Pienaar isn’t just chief political correspondent; he also spends his Sunday nights presenting Pienaar’s Politics, which has been running for just over a year. He believes that “Westminster is about drama, it’s about theatre”.
41 (NE) William Rees-Mogg, commentator, The Times/Mail on Sunday
From his editorship of The Times to his eccentric family (his son is the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg), William is remembered for his individual bylines. He is frequently satirised by Private Eye as “Mystic Mogg” for his often ill-fated predictions.
42 (NE) Tim Shipman, deputy political editor, Daily Mail
After a number of scoops as Washington bureau chief during the 2008 US election, Shipman became deputy political editor at the Daily Mail. His website bills him as “a witty, waspish and sometimes irascible observer of the political scene”.
43 (86) Anne McElvoy, public policy editor, The Economist
Previously an associate editor of The Independent, and executive editor of the Evening Standard (where she now writes a weekly column), McElvoy’s specialties include public policy, race relations in Britain and the US, and foreign affairs. She is married to fellow journalist Martin Ivens
44 (NE) Richard Littlejohn, columnist, Daily Mail
Littlejohn is nothing if not provocative. His controversial opinions on modern Britain, specifically multiculturalism, have won him fans and enemies in equal measure. His columns appear in the Daily Mail on Tuesdays and Fridays..
45 (31) Michael Crick, chief political correspondent, Channel 4 News
After 21 years at the BBC the veteran broadcaster moved from Newsnight back to Channel 4 News this year. He was a founding member of the news team when Channel 4 launched in 1982. Crick has publicly criticised the BBC and said his new job rejuvenates him.
46 (74) Sam Coates, deputy political editor, The Times
A familiar face due to his television appearances and his infectious giggling, Sam is the son of author Tim Coates. He had a great scoop this year when a letter from Liam Fox was leaked to The Times criticising the PM’s aid commitments.
47 (NE) James Chapman, political editor, Daily Mail
The political editor of the Daily Mail, who took over from Ben Brogan in 2009 after serving as his deputy, oversees the Daily Mail’s Chapman & Co blog, which is billed as “Britain’s best political blog”, run by “Fleet Street’s finest political reporting team”.
48 (NE) Peter Hitchens, columnist, Mail on Sunday
Peter Hitchens is everything that the public have come to identify with a Mail on Sunday columnist – conservative and outspoken. His views are often pitted against those of his brother, Christopher. Their disagreements on religion have led to public clashes, although their relationship has thawed in recent years. In October 2010, he said of Christopher: “He has been my opponent for most of my life, but I’d say that is over.”
49 (NE) Daniel Hannan, columnist, The Daily Telegraph
There’s been no stopping Hannan since he verbally attacked Gordon Brown in the European Parliament in 2009. With his blog for The Daily Telegraph, he’s become the darling of the Conservative Party’s right wing because of his eurosceptic views.
50 (37) Tom Bradby, political editor, ITV News
Although not strictly political, there could be no bigger scoop for a journalist in Britain today than landing the first interview with newly-engaged couple Prince William and Kate Middleton. Bradby did just that, and the world tuned in.
51 (5) Evan Davis, presenter, Today programme
52 (NE) Sophy Ridge, political correspondent, Sky News
53 (12) Eddie Mair, presenter, PM
54 (40) James Forsyth, political editor, The Spectator
55 (NE) Dominic Lawson, columnist, The Independent/The Sunday Times
56 (10) James Landale, deputy political editor, BBC News
57 (NE) Andrew Sparrow, senior political correspondent, The Guardian
58 (NE) James Kirkup, deputy political editor, The Daily Telegraph
59 (35) Jonathan Dimbleby, presenter, Any Questions
60 (NE) Allegra Stratton, political correspondent, The Guardian
61 (26) Gary Gibbon, political editor, Channel 4 News
62 (29) Emily Maitlis, presenter, Newsnight
63 (32) Krishnan Guru-Murthy, presenter, Channel 4 News
64 (NE) Jackie Ashley, columnist, The Guardian
65 (NE) Dermot Murnaghan, presenter, Sky News
66 (NE) Mary Ann Sieghart, columnist, The Independent
67 (77) Andrew Gimson, formerly sketchwriter, The Daily Telegraph
68 (75) Andrew Pierce, columnist, Daily Mail
69 (NE) Rod Liddle, columnist, The Sunday Times/The Spectator
70 (NE) Mehdi Hasan, senior editor (politics), New Statesman
71 (39) Huw Edwards, presenter, BBC News
72 (NE) Iain Dale, presenter, LBC 97.3
73 (63) Andrew Porter, public policy editor, The Daily Telegraph
74 (53) George Parker, political editor, Financial Times
75 (NE) Andrew Gilligan, London editor, The Daily Telegraph
76 (87) Martin Kettle, associate editor, The Guardian
77 (62) Carolyn Quinn, presenter, Westminster Hour
78 (51) Kirsty Wark, presenter, Newsnight
79 (59) Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent, The Guardian
80 (71) Nick Cohen, columnist, The Observer
81 (NE) Anushka Asthana, chief political correspondent, The Times
82 (9) Martha Kearney, presenter, World at One
83 (NE) Mary Riddell, columnist, The Daily Telegraph
84 (55) Jon Craig, political correspondent, Sky News
85 (19) Daniel Finkelstein, executive editor and columnist, The Times
86 (44) Cathy Newman, presenter, Channel 4 News
87 (NE) Tom Newton-Dunn, political editor, The Sun
88 (50) Simon Walters, political editor, Mail on Sunday
89 (85) Iain Martin, formerly columnist, Daily Mail
90 (78) Simon Carr, sketchwriter, The Independent
91 (28) Nicky Campbell, presenter, BBC Radio 5 Live
92 (NE) James Lyons, political correspondent, Daily Mirror
93 (34) Gavin Esler, presenter, Newsnight
94 (90) Jo Coburn, presenter, Daily Politics
95 (NE) Norman Smith, chief political correspondent, BBC News
96 (NE) Martin Ivens, columnist, The Sunday Times
97 (NE) Kirsty Walker, political correspondent, Daily Mail
98 (43) Kevin Maguire, associate editor, Daily Mirror
99 (56) Gary O’Donoghue, reporter, BBC News
100 (58) Andrew Grice, political editor, The Independent