Magazine article The Spectator

At the Voice of Middle England, a Lost Harmony

Magazine article The Spectator

At the Voice of Middle England, a Lost Harmony

Article excerpt

Why should Lord Rothermere have thrown in his lot with Tony Blair? He is too wily an old bird to have been moved simply by sentiment. No doubt he likes Mr Blair, as he says. He has met him often. He also loves causing mischief, which he has certainly succeeded in doing. But there is more to this defection than the admiration of an older man for a younger one, or his love for teasing his employees.

For one thing, Lord Rothermere hopes to get something out of a Blair government. Eighteen years of Conservative rule may have produced the economic conditions which helped to make Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and the London Evening Standard, into a hugely profitable group. But the company received no special favours, whereas it is felt that Rupert Murdoch did. Lord Rothermere and Sir David English, chairman of Associated, have been courting Mr Blair so assiduously in the hope that when great media issues such as crossownership come to be discussed their support will count in their favour.

Then there is the question of Europe, on which New Labour recommends itself to Lord Rothermere and Sir David much more than do the increasingly Eurosceptic Tories. Lord Rothermere's main residence happens to be in Paris, and he regards himself as a European man. But it is not just a question of personal preferences. His Lordship believes that Labour is on the same wavelength as what he described as `the developing popular mood' in an article in the Evening Standard last Friday, and that this mood is not viciously Eurosceptic. A popular newspaper like the Daily Mail Lord Rothermere's flagship title -- should also be in tune with the zeitgeist.

All this explains Lord Rothermere's public conversion to Blairism, and Sir David's vote for New Labour on 1 May. They were able to deliver the Evening Standard to Mr Blair (with the willing co-operation of its editor, Max Hastings), though the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail grouchily supported the Tories. It is a remarkable fact about Associated, where as much fear and loathing exist as in any newspaper office, that its editors are allowed to do more or less what they want so long as they do not lose circulation. The editors of the Mail on Sunday and the Daily Mail were left to their own devices.

Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, is hardly in communion with the mood of the times as defined by Lord Rothermere, at any rate so far as Euroscepticism is concerned. Lord Rothermere has had occasion to balk at Mr Dacre's extreme anti-Europeanism before. Over two years ago a message was delivered to Mr Dacre via Sir David telling him to ease up a little, which he did for a time. But Mr Dacre cannot be long restrained. He has been running an anti-European paper rather than a proTory one. When Mr Dacre came to deliver his editorial verdict before the election, it was based solely on Europe, on which he believes the Tories are more to be trusted.

The trouble is that, although in fundamental disagreement with him on Europe, Lord Rothermere regards Mr Dacre very highly. How could he do otherwise, given that Mr Dacre has presided over an increase of some 300,000 (almost 20 per cent) in the Mail's circulation since he became editor nearly five years ago? There is no reason to doubt Lord Rothermere's praise of Mr Dacre on BBC Radio 4's The World at One, when he described him as `probably the most brilliant editor in Fleet Street'. …

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