We live in strange times. Leaders and former leaders attacking one another. Radical changes of policy. Concerns about keeping in touch with core supporters...
Yes, that’s right, the Brexit virus appears to have even infected the Daily Mail. The editor and former editor are in a state of some open hostility. Former editor Paul Dacre has “hit back”, as they say in tabloid land, at his successor’s remarks about losing advertisers; “economical with the actualité”, a nicely turned phrase once used by Alan Clark, is the riposte.
The row has been played out in the pages of the Financial Times, like an FA Cup tie being held at a neutral football ground. And there’s been crowd trouble.
Current editor Geordie Greig made a claim during his FT interview about the paper’s advertisers coming back; Dacre took it as implied criticism and sought to put matters straight in the FT’s letters page. He signed off using his courtesy titles of chairman and editor in chief of DMG Media. (Greig does not report to Dacre but directly to the owner, Lord Rothermere.)
There is more to this than arguments about the commercial success of this famous brand, or even personal rivalries. When Greig moved from the editorship of the Mail on Sunday and took over as editor a year ago, the daily paper swiftly changed its stance on Brexit. Crudely, it went from an adamantine support for hard Brexit to backing a deal, a softer Brexit. Gone were the strident front page attacks on the “Enemies of the People”, character assassinations of Anna Soubry and the language of betrayal and war; in came compromise and the quest for a deal.
An early fan of Theresa May – “ Steel of the New Iron Lady” – Dacre, writing in The Spectator, believes Boris Johnson’s private life – “the morals of an alley cat” – makes him unsuitable for high office; Greig isn’t so bothered and is happy to run luvvy duvvy pictures of the PM and Carrie Symonds, a women Dacre called “the 31-year old minx who is the current Boris Johnson bedwarmer”. A few days ago the Mail ran a bizarre double page spread purporting to be the “secret diary” of the new Downing Street puppy Dilyn and his thoughts on “mummy and daddy”.
Don’t get me wrong. The Mail is as Tory as ever – Greig said he’d rather see a no-deal Brexit than a Corbyn government. You’d not call it progressive even now, but it’s maybe a touch more centrist, a bit more inclined to reflect contemporary Britain. The Sunday paper, by the way, appears to have tacked in the opposite direction.
Apart from the entertaining soap drama of it all – and there is nothing journalists enjoy more than gossiping and bitching about each other – I am pleased that Dacre is putting himself about. Unlike former premiers, ex-newspaper editors are merely a more exalted kind of tradesman, or woman, and do not have to be dignified. They’re not that important.
Besides, Dacre is far too young and vigorous to retire, in any sense, and he’s interesting to listen to. He is strong meat, especially for those of us who find his general influence on public life to have been a net negative, but it is right that we liberals have their views challenged, pomposities pricked and pretensions punctured. If you enjoy argument and debate and being made to justify your own opinions, or prejudices, and have confidence, you should relish hearing the harshest of critics. Every now and again we all need to be outraged by the likes of Dacre, or Richard Littlejohn, or Sarah Vine. Especially when we know they represent a sizeable chunk of public opinion, like it or not. It is why I make a point of reading the Mail every day.
In addition to his occasional interventions in print, I hear Dacre has been given a Channel 4 show, provisionally entitled “The World According to Paul Dacre”. It’s not a place I imagine I would like to live in, but I remain simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by it.