Mo­ral­ist, monar­chist and Brex­i­teer-in-chief Stephen Fay

Paul Dacre is ed­i­tor of the Daily Mail, the most pow­er­ful news­pa­per in the coun­try. But who is he? By Stephen Fay

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

Paul Dacre doesn’t do in­ter­views. I know of just three in the 25 years of his ed­i­tor­ship of the

Daily Mail. When the Mail is re­quired to ar­gue its case on TV, a loyal deputy is served up to take the heat. Dacre in­sists that the paper speaks for it­self, and so it does.

His com­plete author­ity rests on his dis­tinc­tive and en­er­getic pro­fes­sion­al­ism, and Brexit presents him with a dra­matic cli­max to a re­mark­able ca­reer. He is now 68, and has had heart trou­ble. Col­leagues talk as though he were on his fi­nal lap. Like him or not, and there are plenty in West­min­ster who don’t, he is Bri­tain’s most for­mi­da­ble news­pa­per­man. And its most re­lent­less.

You learn about Dacre in frag­ments from col­leagues, who in­sist on anonymity: no names, they say, no pack drill. All are struck by his en­ergy. He is in the office in Kens­ing­ton at the start of the day, and usu­ally stays un­til the last page has gone at 10.30pm. There is an en­trenched be­lief in the trade that, within those long hours, he con­ducts a reign of ter­ror.

True, he does shout when he thinks that re­porters and sub-ed­i­tors are not con­cen­trat­ing, and he ran­domly refers to them as ‘cunts’ (his con­fer­ences are known as the ‘vag­ina mono­logues’). ‘It’s the­atri­cal,’ says a col­league; ‘he loses con­trol when he feels like los­ing con­trol.’ But they get used to it, and Dacre re­wards loy­alty and hard work with de­cent pay and job se­cu­rity. His jus­ti­fi­ca­tion is that shout­ing cre­ates en­ergy, and en­ergy cre­ates great head­lines.

One of the most mem­o­rable ap­peared on 4th Novem­ber 2016. The Daily Mail’s front page pic­tured three plump, be­wigged High Court judges over a big bold head­line: ‘En­e­mies of the Peo­ple’; and added for good mea­sure: ‘out of touch judges who de­fied 17.4m Brexit vot­ers and could trig­ger a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis’.

Dacre was with the group of sube­d­i­tors on the paper’s back­bench, search­ing for the most damn­ing head­line for the Court of Ap­peal judges’ de­ci­sion that Par­lia­ment ought to have a say about the terms of Brexit: ‘En­e­mies’ was agreed as a good start, but of what? Brexit? Jus­tice? Not strong enough. What about ‘the Peo­ple’ then? That was tough.

Dacre, who de­lights in provoca­tive head­lines, let it go to press. When the con­tro­versy over ‘En­e­mies of the Peo­ple’ ex­ploded, col­leagues sensed that even he was won­der­ing whether it might have been over the top, but it was true to the

Mail’s para­noia which had al­ready made an ap­pear­ance in a lead­ing ar­ti­cle on 13th Oc­to­ber in which Re­main­ers were cat­e­gorised as crea­tures of the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ments of Lon­don and Brus­sels, which plot ‘to sub­vert the will of the Bri­tish peo­ple’.

A sig­nif­i­cant player in this story is Paul Dacre’s fa­ther, Peter. A York­shire­man, he joined the Sun­day

Ex­press in its hal­cyon days, writ­ing the gos­sip col­umn as Ephraim Hard­cas­tle; trav­el­ling to New York as an Ex­press cor­re­spon­dent; get­ting to know Lord Beaver­brook him­self. Peter Dacre bought his work home, and the din­ner-ta­ble talk was a school of jour­nal­ism, es­pe­cially for Paul, who later claimed that he had wanted to be a news­pa­per ed­i­tor from the day he was born. Chil­dren of jour­nal­ists learn about the lan­guage, char­ac­ters, and hero­ics of the trade, and if they re­spond, and fol­low their fa­ther (or mother), they al­ready have a sense of the ro­mance and obli­ga­tions of jour­nal­ism. (I know this be­cause it hap­pened to me.)

The Dacres lived in Arnos Grove, a solidly mid­dle-class sub­urb on Lon­don’s dis­tant north­ern bor­der. Paul was a schol­ar­ship boy at a pub­lic school, but he re­mained loyal to the val­ues of his neigh­bours. He enu­mer­ates these: ut­terly self-re­liant, im­mensely as­pi­ra­tional and sus­pi­cious of pro­gres­sive val­ues, vul­gar­ity, pre­ten­tious­ness and peo­ple who know best. They dis­own smart met­ro­pol­i­tan opin­ion, and now de­fine the core read­er­ship of the Daily Mail. Hav­ing worked as a copy boy on the

Daily Ex­press, he re­turned to it af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Leeds Univer­sity, where he stud­ied English and edited the stu­dent news­pa­per. In his late twen­ties he was sent by the Ex­press to New York. A con­ven­tional stu­dent Lefty at Leeds, he was soon con­verted to the allure of the

happy to dis­tin­guish right from wrong. He thinks the Iraq War was wrong, and tor­ture too. In­di­vid­u­al­ism is right, and col­lec­tivism wrong. An­thony Bar­nett, from the im­pec­ca­bly lib­eral Open Democ­racy lobby, sug­gests that Dacre is a be­liever in Late Great Bri­tish na­tion­al­ism. He calls this the new­est of ‘isms’ – Dacreism. It as­serts that Bri­tish de­cline was as­so­ci­ated with EU mem­ber­ship and be­longs in the past, and that the eco­nomic prob­lems can be solved by the ap­pli­ca­tion of will. Bar­nett claims that if you want to know the Gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy, just read the Mail. (How­ever, ner­vous true be­liev­ers on the

Mail are be­gin­ning to won­der whether Mrs May is wa­ver­ing.)

The Mail’s lead­ing ar­ti­cle of 13th Oc­to­ber was head­lined ‘Who will Speak for Eng­land?’ For a start, Paul Dacre will. And should his health be­gin to fail him, there is no chance that he would go out with a whim­per.

Brex­i­teers would look for a cham­pion in the press who is no less driven. There isn’t one. free mar­ket. In con­trast, he now saw Bri­tain as an os­si­fied, statist so­ci­ety, dom­i­nated by in­ef­fi­cient state-run in­dus­tries and cor­rupt Labour coun­cil­lors.

Re­turn­ing to Lon­don, he was poached by the Mail, and let loose on its evening paper, the Evening Stan­dard, be­fore be­ing el­e­vated to the ed­i­tor­ship. There is no com­puter on his desk at the Mail, where he rewrites copy and al­ters head­lines; he also se­lects the can­di­date for the main fea­ture, and only rarely is there any de­vi­a­tion from the poli­cies and prej­u­dices of Paul Dacre. He makes wry com­ments about mod­ern cul­ture, and rude re­marks about politi­cians, such as Peter Man­del­son, and those hand­ing out for­eign aid. And he hates the state­spon­sored BBC. If you are some­one like Philip Green, and the Mail de­cides to mon­ster you, it will get you. It is gen­er­ally slow to make cor­rec­tions, but quick to ar­gue fiercely for a press free of a hint of gov­ern­ment con­trol.

He may be the last of the old school of Fleet Street ed­i­tors (‘be­fore they start get­ting the money men in’, as they say in the news­room). The paper makes money for Lord Rother­mere, the pro­pri­etor, so money men are not re­quired – yet. It makes money for Dacre too. His salary peaked at £2.4 mil­lion in 2014. His es­tates in Sus­sex and Scot­land have re­ceived a use­ful £460,000 in EU agri­cul­tural sub­si­dies since 2011, but he will get by if Brexit should end them. Rother­mere’s best gift to him is a free hand. Be­cause he knew that Ru­pert Mur­doch would not do the same, Dacre turned down an of­fer of the ed­i­tor­ship of the Times.

Twice last sum­mer Dacre won a stun­ning jack­pot; seventy per cent of his read­ers helped forge a small ma­jor­ity for Brexit, which lent le­git­i­macy to his cam­paigns against the in­iq­ui­ties of the EU. With Brexit came Theresa May. Dacre did not jump on that band­wagon so much as drive it. He saw many of the virtues of Arnos Grove in the steady mid­dle-class con­ser­vatism of her cam­paign, and judged her ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing the hard exit he de­mands.

He is a monar­chist, and a mo­ral­ist,

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