Should this Sheikh be allowed to follow in the great footsteps of Beaverbrook and Rothermere?

Good newspaper proprietors are a rare breed as veterans of the last 50 years of the Express titles know to our cost. They are in turn grasping, remote, disinterested in anything but a peerage, or just plain barmy. Think Maxwell the thieving bouncing Czech (graspingly crooked); Little Lord Stevens (remote and peerage focussed) and the first Lord Rothermere (barmy about Hitler, and paranoid.)


The exceptions are the third and fourth Viscounts Rothermere, Vere and Jonathan, Rupert Murdoch and of course the greatest of them all, Beaverbrook, the man who set the standards of great journalism essential for a successful product.


I got to know Vere Rothermere slightly while on the Mail and Evening News and he was engagingly dotty but a brilliant publisher because he chose key staff so well, foremost among them David English and then Paul Dacre. He also took the bravest step of all by backing English without hesitation and with massive investment. As we all know that paid off when the Mail overtook and eventually blew the Express out of the water. His son Jonathan has carried his legacy with similar success and loves the company of journalists.


Murdoch needs no justification  because at his height he was supreme; he created The Sun (though eventually failed with the News of the World) and has protected The Times and Sunday Times, by far the best papers in Britain.


As for the Beaver, for all his legion of flaws (foremost vanity and bullying) he was one of the few people you could call a genius. Although he didn’t create the Express from scratch, he did in all other respects. He spent millions on his newspapers when millions were real money, chose brilliantly (Christiansen) and in another life was Churchill’s great foul weather friend, the closest advisor who never let him down.


So what are we to make of the possibility the two Telegraphs and The Spectator falling into the hands of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his UAE fund with zillions to spend fronted by a former CNN man with a bit of form?


Charles Moore who has edited all three of the Telegraph titles is resolutely and eloquently against the bid, so is William Hague, a much better Times columnist than he was Tory leader (a pretty low bar by recent standards) and so is the Mail and MPs on all sides of the House. And for what it’s worth I certainly am.


First, the Arab world deploys censorship in varying and to quite disturbing degrees and curbs on a free Press is one of them. Whatever Jeff Zucker, the ex-CNN sap, says about freedom of speech if they do get control, it simply won’t happen.  It goes head on against the mindset of that part of the world where money rules over all else and no pesky luxuries like Press freedom will get in the way.


Charles, now Lord Moore, was, you may remember, a fine columnist at the Express while I was features editor in the 80s and I got to know him well and to respect, if not always agree with, his opinions. And he likes trading gossip, always an essential requirement of a decent hack. He has led the charge against any deal with the Arabs, saying the government would never be forgiven by the British people if it nodded this through.


Lord Hague said that when he was Foreign Secretary he was phoned by a senior UAE official demanding that he stop the BBC reporting damaging stories about his country. ‘I can’t do that, the media in the UK is independent.’ The incredulous response: ’What a very odd way to run a country and an extremely irritating one.’


Remember we are talking about the Middle East, a region that kills supposed miscreants by public hanging and stoning, restricts most rights for women and in the case of that modern horror Dubai, uses imported Indian and Pakistani labour at near slave levels.


As for Mail Newspapers which has done much of the running against the UAE bid, it should be said that they have a horse running in this race. And much as I don’t much like their current products and the way they keep the flame of Johnson burning, I hope they emerge victorious. We can be confident the current Rothermere will ensure the titles are safe.


The sheikh should stick to buying football clubs.


 The Sunak government is now is such terminal decline that it has become embarrassing. It fails at every turn and now picks a stupid fight over the Elgin Marbles with the Greeks. The Prime Minister cancelled at the last minute a meeting with the Greek PM causing understandable offence. Rishi, try making friends instead of alienating people because you really do need them right now.


 Talking of The Spectator (see above) why did it devote a whole page to an interview with/profile of our old colleague Mike Graham, formerly of this parish? It did however run a good piece with Peter Hitchens, also FOTP, who wrote about his four days incarcerated with some very bad people for a TV show. I watched 10 minutes of the programme to see how Hitchens, a good friend, got on.


In short, he didn’t. I just hope the fee was good.


29 November 2023