Paul Dacre’s Spectator Diary

To reverse the Daily Mail’s Brexit
stance would be editorial suicide

The Spectator 16 June 2018

9:00 AM

Awake to the Today programme and ordure being dumped on me by Polly Toynbee while the Mail’s legendary Dame Ann Leslie sings my praises. I recall how Toynbee penned a venomous piece about my predecessor, Sir David English, only days after he died at 67 (though, through a slip in the actualité, his Who’s Who entry had him at 66). I never cease to be amused by the way the left demonise anyone they disagree with, but poor Polly’s obsession with the Mail is almost psychotic. Roger Alton, the ex-editor of the Observer, wades in, writing to the Guardian that I am ‘a very great man and a newspaperman of genius who has done as much to improve the quality of life in Britain as anybody I can think of’. It seems I’m a somewhat divisive character…David’s premature death was on my mind when I announced last week that, after 28 years — and six prime ministers — I will step aside from day-to-day editing to become chairman and editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers by 14 November, when Prince Charles and I celebrate our 70th birthdays. At the Palace, I’m known, somewhat disparagingly, as The Twin. The Mail, which was unashamedly in Diana’s camp, has over the years been a mite beastly to the prince, who’s basically a good man. I thank my stars for a career that’s been enthralling, privileged and profoundly fulfilling. My Twin, for his part, is yet to start his.

It’s been a good week for the Dacre family. My sister-in-law, married to my fourth brother, editor of ITN when it was great, has been made a Dame for her presidency of the Royal College of Physicians. My wife Kathy, a professor who for a decade has campaigned to build the Shakespeare North Playhouse in Liverpool’s Knowsley, one of Britain’s most deprived areas, learns that key funding has just been secured. She grew up in a council house just down the road, and was a grammar-school girl. Today, it is hard to find a school in the area that teaches A-levels.

The Today programme again and this time Rachel Johnson, whose newspaper column gives banality a bad name, is rejoicing that the future Mail will be less inflammatory and more inclusive (‘and have the circulation of the Guardian’, a proper columnist on another paper emails). If calling five racist London thugs ‘Murderers’ on the front page or carrying a picture of a swimming sea turtle swallowing a plastic supermarket bag is inflammatory, I plead guilty. As I do for using shock headlines that secured justice for the Omagh bomb victims, the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo, and sanctuary here for the army’s Afghan interpreters — just a few of countless ‘inclusive’ Mail campaigns that have given voice to the voiceless. As for the other ‘i’ word, one of the main reasons Britain voted Brexit was the refusal by our ruling class, led by the BBC, to allow a mature debate on mass immigration which has nothing to do with race and everything to do with numbers. If the Mail promoted that debate and helped prevent the rise here of the kind of ugly right-wing political movements now festering across the EU, then I suffer my critics’ obloquy with pride.

I secure a correction from the BBC, which has linked the Mail to phone hacking — something we never did despite the best efforts to prove otherwise by that pervert Max Mosley, with his racist past, and a cadre of loopy lords, priapic actors and small-town academics (is there anything more ludicrous in British academia than media studies?). This makes me think of the address I have been asked to give at Peter Preston’s memorial service. He was a great editor in the days when the Guardian was a journalistically brilliant liberal, but not knee-jerk leftist, paper — before it was financially crippled by his successor who, like so many retiring leftie media nabobs, has punted off to be the figurehead of an Oxbridge college. Will Chris Patten now recommend me for the BBC? I jest, dear reader. But ask yourself, why do such positions never go to people from the right?

Receive many lovely letters from public figures, of which the warmest are from Gordon Brown and David Blunkett. David Davis complains that I have stolen the thunder from his threatened resignation. A top historian wails that my move is the equivalent of the ravens leaving the Tower. All tosh, of course, but what moves me most are the countless messages from readers worried about whether the Mail will continue its support for EU withdrawal. My answer to them — and others — is unequivocal. Support for Brexit is in the DNA of both the Daily Mail and, more pertinently, its readers. Any move to reverse this would be editorial and commercial suicide.

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre