Magazine article The Spectator

Sly Move: How Poor Young Piers Morgan Is Losing His Grip on the Mirror

Magazine article The Spectator

Sly Move: How Poor Young Piers Morgan Is Losing His Grip on the Mirror

Article excerpt

Is the eight-year reign of Piers Morgan at the Daily Mirror drawing to a gentle close? Last October I wrote, 'My bet is that in six months' time the Mirror will not belong to Trinity.' Mmm. More than six months have passed and the newspaper has not been sold - yet. An approach to buy it was made before Christmas by the venture-capital groups Apax Partners and Candover, but rebuffed by the board of Trinity Mirror. Since then the condition of the group has worsened, with the sales of the Daily Mirror and its sister titles falling further, and several senior executives being asked to walk the plank.

Readers may be inclined to receive my predictions about the future of Mr Morgan with scepticism. Nonetheless, I believe his day is drawing nigh. This would not have been credited six months ago. Then he was still the darling boy of Sir Victor Blank, chairman of Trinity Mirror, despite having masterminded an expensive and unsuccessful relaunch of the Daily Mirror. But things have changed. The loss of sales has quickened alarmingly, largely because Mr Morgan's ferocious anti-war stance seems to have repelled some loyal Mirror readers. In April circulation stood at 1.92 million, a fall of some 7 per cent ycar-on-year. Even this might not have mattered if Mr Morgan's ncmesis had not walked through the door in the shape of a blonde, fortyish new chief executive improbably called Sly Bailey.

I don't imagine that Ms Bailey has any more idea of what to do with the Mirror than Mr Morgan has. In fact, she probably has rather less. But she is now in charge. Mr Morgan formally reports to her, the managing director of national newspapers having been given the heave-ho. He is no longer the fond son of Sir Victor Blank or, if he is, the father's love has been attenuated by the arrival of Sly Bailey. A look at her purposeful features suggests that she is almost certainly making poor Mr Morgan's life hell. She peremptorily called an end to the price-cutting strategy which Mr Morgan had favoured, and did what incoming chief executives who want to make their mark normally do instituted a wide-ranging strategic review.

Evidence that the wind had veered came last week at Trinity Mirror's annual meeting. In response to unfriendly questions about Mr Morgan's future, Sir Victor Blank said that he was 'a very good and competent tabloid editor and he's not, at the moment, on the way out'. This did not sound like the sort of ringing endorsement that an editor would like to receive from a chairman at an annual meeting. It suggested that when this particular moment has passed, Sir Victor might take a different view. Sly's own comments were no less ominous. 'I will define a clear, unambiguous direction for the group before deciding whether I have the right people in the right jobs. . . . Beneath the board I need a management team that will shape and redefine goals for the company.' There is a sinister undertow to this management-speak that does not bode well for Mr Morgan. Sources within Trinity Mirror say that Ms Bailey has made it clear to Mr Morgan that he should find another job if he is so inclined, and there is already unseemly jostling for his chair.

How does Mr Morgan react as Sly's axe flexes above his neck? On the one hand, he seems to be making at least half-hearted attempts to take the Daily Mirror downmarket, which is to say away from the vision of a serious popular paper, inspired by Hugh Cudlipp, which he unveiled a year ago. …

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