As they preach on divorce, their readers may be falling off the straight and narrow

Real life gets in the way when newspapers try to hold the line on marriage

If there is data about the divorce habits of readers of particular newspapers, I am unaware of it. It would be fascinating to know, for example, whether the propensity for divorce is greater among Telegraph than among Independent readers. Do the obsessive upholders of traditional values for whom the Daily Mail caters veer less from the straight and narrow than Sun readers trying to absorb page three and watch Big Brother at the same time?

This was the week in which, as the Daily Express described it, "Women win the divorce jackpot. Husbands will be taken to the cleaners. Now women rule". The Law Lords' judgments giving Melissa Miller a divorce settlement of £5m and Julia McFarlane £250,000 a year for life were widely regarded as the most significant for decades, recognising as they did that divorcing women should be compensated for giving up (sacrificing, as The Daily Telegraph surprisingly put it) careers after marriage.

Newspapers are seldom reticent about marriage and divorce, both staples of the celebrity coverage that so dominates the pages today. But they are less confident when handling "real" marriage and divorce. Some, like The Sun, dealt with the Lords ruling by considering the implications for Sir Paul McCartney.

Even the serious newspapers are less happy with shades of grey than with certainties, and found that taking a position on the Lords ruling was not a matter of voting on party lines. Left of centre: liberal on divorce, compensate the wife. Right of centre: defend marriage, make divorce harder, men have suffered enough. It was harder for the more liberal papers.

The Daily Mail could portray itself as the last defender of the institution of marriage. "Yet again society moves to weaken marriage," said its leader, going on to assert that the pendulum had swung too far and men were now the ones who were being short-changed.

But The Independent, preferring casinos to divorce on the front page, saw the issue as less clear-cut. No problem about behaviour within marriage: the paper welcomed the rejection of the idea that the settlement for Mrs Miller was in any way punishment for her husband's affair, which precipitated the end of the marriage. "That is quite right," said the Indy.

However, there were echoes of the Mail's pendulum in the leader. Feminism had altered the 1950s model of the stay-at-home mother. But independence and fulfilment were prizes, not prices to be paid. "Does she [Mrs McFarlane] not have some responsibility for her own life? Not to suggest that... is to create a structural incentive to idleness and dependency - and to fuel the ire of those who talk about meal tickets for life."

The Times, as likely as any to have mega- settlement divorcees among the readership, found it "somewhat depressing" that more couples would now need to consider prenuptial agreements. What about the middle man- ager, of modest means, abandoned by a spouse who claimed and won huge compensation from future earnings?

Such people "may rightly feel wronged... the law should protect them from greed and vindictiveness".

Life is simpler in the shires and suburbs, where The Daily Telegraph flourishes. The paper, unequivocally for marriage, gave most space to the Lords rulings. Rachel Simon, single, hoped they would make people take marriage and divorce, and its consequences, more seriously. Her column bordered one by Boris Johnson. Let that be a warning to him.

The Daily Telegraph grieved over Britain having the second-highest divorce rate in Europe. It wanted that to change, which would require people to see divorce as the exception, rather than the natural option whenever a marriage hit difficulties.

"The introduction of 'no fault' divorce," said the paper, "has given precious little incentive to save a marriage that has hit a rough patch... The system is designed to facilitate, rather than hinder, the end of a marriage."

Now, The Daily Telegraph may believe that its readers are not susceptible to divorce or the causes of divorce. There may be no scandal, no risk of high compensation settlements out there. Somehow I doubt it.

Those Telegraph readers who write to the paper take a robustly pragmatic view. John Gouriet of Bicknoller in Somerset, married for 43 years, wrote: "Marriage is the cement of civilisation ... and should be a sharing partnership till death us do part, not until temptation beckons." Mr Gouriet feared the Lords ruling would not reduce the number of divorces, except by deterring men from marrying at all. "The military adage 'time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted' may prove sound," he said.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick