If the rumours surrounding the future editorship of the Daily Mail were limited to that paper I might very well not write about them. As a Mail columnist I naturally pick up some internal gossip, much of which is wild or off-beam. Journalists love nothing more than jawing about when their editor is going to resign or be sacked. In my first week as a young journalist on The Daily Telegraph I was taken aside and told that Bill Deedes, the paper's then editor, was on the way out. In the event, he survived another eight years.
But the present case of the Daily Mail is different, and I would be failing in my professional duty if I did not write about it. For the rumour that Paul Dacre is about to stand down after 15 years as editor of the paper – and assume an even greater eminence "upstairs" – has broken the banks of the Mail and is swirling around other newspaper offices.
I have been telephoned by excited journalists from rival media pages and asked whether I know what is going on. The other day, I am told, the offices of The Daily Telegraph were awash with the story that Veronica Wadley, editor of the London Evening Standard, was about to be parachuted into the Mail. One eminent columnist says he has heard it from a member of the board of Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT.) I gather Ms Wadley denies the story.
Of course, Mr Dacre may have no intention of standing aside in the foreseeable future. Speaking personally, no one would be happier than me if this were the case, since the next editor may not like me, or I him or her. But we have reached the point where, if Mr Dacre is intending to stay, it would be in the best interests of DMGT to make that clear. It is, after all, one of the hundred largest companies in Britain, and Mr Dacre has been, and remains, its most significant employee. If he is to continue as editor, DMGT could issue a statement announcing that, in addition to his existing duties, Mr Dacre will become deputy chairman, or whatever. That should kill off the wild-fire speculation.
There are undoubtedly good reasons for supposing he may be on the verge of passing on the baton. It is no secret that he has had a couple of recent bouts of illness, although he is back in the saddle and apparently hale and hearty. Still, time stops for no one, and Mr Dacre was 59 last week. He has edited the Mail with Stakhanovite ferocity for 15 years, and nobody can go on doing that for ever.
Who might succeed him? Let me say that I have no privileged information. Mr Dacre would be no more likely to confide in me on such a matter than grow pigtails. The candidates, in fact, are pretty obvious. There are five internal ones, and a sprinkling of outsiders. But none of them is a shoe-in in the way Mr Dacre was when his predecessor, David English, decided to hand over to him in 1992.
Alistair Sinclair, the Mail's deputy editor, would probably be the bookies' favourite. He has edited the paper very competently when Mr Dacre has been away. Most people seem to think he has grown in stature. Admittedly no spring chicken, he would be the continuity candidate, holding the ship steady until a younger one emerged.
Two others, also in their mid fifties, could fulfil a similar role. Both are former Mail executives who know where the knobs and dials are to be found. Peter Wright has been a very successful editor of the Mail on Sunday. But would he want the daily job? Veronica Wadley has been given the more difficult task of keeping the Mail's sister paper, the Evening Standard, afloat, and one can still sometimes spot the poop deck above the foaming main. Somewhat to my surprise, her name continues to crop up in various rumours.
There are two internal candidates of more youthful vintage. Two years ago Jon Steafel turned down the deputy editorship of The Daily Telegraph, and he surely would not have done so without an assurance of a sparkling future at the Daily Mail. Martin Clarke has been editor of the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman, Daily Record, and Ireland on Sunday (now rebranded as the Irish Mail on Sunday). Despite this impressive track record – he is only 43 – there seems to be a feeling that he is not yet a fully known quantity. Either he or Mr Steafel could still emerge as editor of the Daily Mail, but it might be thought useful if they were first given the chance to edit one of DMGT's other big titles.
You will have gathered that I am not certain who Mr Dacre's successor will be. The names of Simon Kelner, editor of this newspaper, and Roger Alton, who has just resigned as editor of The Observer, are also bandied about but, although they are no doubt revered at the Mail, they would surely be regarded as too left-wing, and almost certainly wouldn't want the job anyway, notwithstanding its enticing salary. Ian MacGregor, the newly-appointed editor of The Sunday Telegraph and a former Mail executive, should not be forgotten, but I doubt his claims would be thought superior to those of Messrs Clarke and Steafel, who are about the same age.
Whoever is chosen, Paul Dacre will continue as editor-in-chief or in some such role, and as a very senior figure in DMGT. Even the Mail's many critics and enemies will not gainsay his achievement. Since 1992 he has presided over a circulation increase at the Daily Mail of about a third, during which period all other national titles, other than The Times, have lost sales. Lord Rothermere, chairman and proprietor of DMGT, will want to have him at his side. When David English stood down after 21 years as editor, it was clear that he would be succeeded by a man of at least equal talents. It will not be possible to be as sanguine when Mr Dacre gives up his editorial chair.
Britain's most successful, and most hated, newspaper faces challenges whenever Mr Dacre gravitates upstairs. DMGT's immediate task is to take control of a story that threatens to run wild. There is no virtue, and some risk, in saying he will stand down in a year or two: remember what happened to Tony Blair. All that needs to be made clear now is whether or not he is to remain editor of the Daily Mail.Reuse content