The New Statesman, an influential liberal-left weekly noted for its elegant political and literary essays, has chosen an inkstained investigative journalist as its new editor.

He is Bruce Page, 41, a graduate of Melbourne high school in Australia and former chief of The Sunday Times' much admired Insight team. Page was a surprise selection of the New Statesman board, which has usually preferred products of Britain's elite schools.

Page succeeds Anthony Howard, 44, who has resigned after five years at the magazine's helm and is now expected to land a key post in Fleet Street.

The New Statesman occupies a unique place in shaping British political thinking, far more important than its circulation of 40,000 suggests. Its nearest American equivalents are the New Republic and The Nation, but in a more homogeneous and more elitist society like Britain's, the New Statesman is probably more consequential than both the U.S. journals combined.

Its readership includes virtually every Labor member of Parliament and many Tories, most of the tightly knit newspaper world here, academics and students. It has a distinguished literary and arts section as well as political commentary.

The weekly was started 65 years ago by Sidney and Beatrice Webb and has included George Bernard Shaw and John Maynard Keynes among its directors. It has followed an independent left course that has by turnes irritated and delighted every wing of the Labor Party.

Under Page, a notoriously independent journalist who left The Sunday Times after a row with editor Harold Evans over the treatment of a foreign correspondent, the weekly is like to become even less predictable.

Page was a surprise choice on two counts. The board overruled the recommendation of the New Statesman staff who had voted for James Fenton, 29, the paper's political commentator. In addition, Page is more of a hardnosed reporter than a polished intellectual, the characteristic of past New Statesman editors.

The board evidently chose him in hopes that he will restore the 90,000 circulation that the weekly once enjoyed. Page made it clear that he would put his investigative experience to work at the magazine, saying, "I hope to crack some stories."

"The press lives by disclosure," he said, "and I'd like to break three or four big ones each year. I'd like to cause trouble for the fat and wealthy of this world."

As head of the Sunday Times Insight team, Page developed a style of systematic, group inquiry that became a model for many U.S. papers. Among the team's coups was the exposure of a manufacturer's 12-year delay in compensating the limbless victims of the drug thalidomide. The paper fought a notable battle in the courts to print its stories. After they appeared, the manufacturer paid up promptly it had offered earlier.

Page was raised in Australia, which puts him even further outside the tradition of New Statesman editors. Howard and his predecessors, Richard Crossman, Paul Johnson, John Freeman and Kingsley Martin were all products of elite British private schools and typically went to either Oxford or Cambridge.

Australians occupy an outsized position in Fleet Street, both as publishers like Rupert Murdoch of The Sun (and the New York Post) and as writers, like Clive James of the Observer who st) and as writers, like Clive James of the Observer who has just won the critic-of-the-year award.