With all this talk of a snap general election in the air, I pose this startling question. Is it possible - more than that, isn't it increasingly certain? - that for the first time in its history, the Daily Mail will counsel its immense and psephologically crucial readership to vote Labour?
So eerily in tune have Gordon Brown and the Mail been since his accession that you could almost believe the paper's mannerly editor Paul Dacre is performing a similar role in this PM's life to the one Rupert Murdoch played in his predecessor's. This is something the Mail hinted at itself last Thursday.
"It's almost as if Gordon Brown keeps a checklist of concerns raised by this paper during the Blair years," ran a leader, referring to dope, 24-hour pub hours, supercasinos, and so on, "and, one by one, he's ticking them off." Indeed so, and while the piece affected scepticism over whether Gordon really means it, it still read like a gruff billet-doux. It is well known that Paul and Gordon are mutual admirers and personal friends, and even if Paul has a talent unusual in editors for divorcing his private and professional emotions (the way he turned on David Blunkett, also once a friend, was inspiring to behold) it is abundantly clear which party he prefers.
The only apparent obstruction between the Daily Mail and a "Vote Labour!" front page headline is resistance from owner Lord Rothermere, but he isn't thought to be particularly partisan either way. A media catastrophe approaches for David Cameron. He hired former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, at huge expense, to schmooze his old mates at News International, but he's fighting on the wrong ground because, whatever one thinks of the Daily Mail, no one doubts its dominance and the influence it exerts. The moment it makes history by advising its readers to vote Labour, history is what Mr Cameron will become.
AS FOR the leader mentioned above, it included the line: "We said it was a madness to downgrade cannabis to a Class C drug." Really? What the Daily Mail said, in October 2000, was this: "A debate is urgently needed... to examine the arguments of those, including many with experience of fighting drugs, who want cannabis decriminalised."
In February 2001, it added this: "In the real world, the use of... cannabis is an everyday fact of life. Making it illegal has failed to discourage its use and, arguably, increased it". And that July: "When millions of otherwise decent citizens routinely break the law... the case for a fundamental review is persuasive." Admittedly the mental health evidence was much patchier then, and even newspapers can allow facts to alter their thinking, but some small mention of the Mail's role in emboldening Mr Blair to drop dope to Class C might be nice. …