The person behind the plan to install Mr Heffer was none other than this column's new friend, Murdoch MacLennan, chief executive of the Telegraph Group, also known as Lord McGifty because of his generous habit of giving presents to new acquaintances. Mr MacLennan has been having the time of his life. Though inexperienced in editorial matters, he has been treating The Daily Telegraph, where he arrived last year, as a long-deprived boy who gets his hands on a wondrous new train set. Engines have been shunted around with abandon, and now he has even been trying to open a branch line. For The Spectator, though owned by the Barclay brothers, as is the Telegraph Group, is, strictly speaking, part of a separate mini empire presided over by Mr Neil.
On the face of it, the friendship between Mr MacLennan and Mr Heffer is an unlikely one. Mr Maclennan, as his name implies, is a Scot, and Mr Heffer abominates Scotland - so much so that his highly charged Mail column is dropped from the paper's Scottish edition lest the natives be roused to march on England, and perhaps besiege Heffer Towers, which lies in Essex. None the less, another Scot, Peter McKay, who writes the Ephraim Hardcastle column in the Mail, introduced the genial Mr MacLennan to Mr Heffer, and an unlikely friendship bloomed. The two men shared a love of shooting - birds, that is. Mr MacLennan could listen for hours to Mr Heffer's impassioned discourses about the shortcomings of various editors, as Conrad Black had once done. In due course, Mr Heffer supported Mr MacLennan's candidature for membership of the Garrick Club. And then Mr MacLennan was translated from the Mail to the Telegraph Group, and Mr Heffer's diatribes took on a new piquancy.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson survived at The Spectator, seemingly at peace, believing that his charms had softened the famously abrasive Andrew Neil, who had been made the magazine's chief executive to keep an eye on him. Boris could not know, even as he exchanged loving glances with his new friend, that Mr MacLennan was hatching plans to get rid of him, and replace him with Mr Heffer, who, by the by, is considerably more right wing than Boris, so much so that he appears to have disowned the Tory party altogether. But when Mr MacLennan made his move, he met unexpected resistance from Mr Neil, who, also a Scot, takes a less indulgent view of Mr Heffer's anti-Scottish jibes. Do not sack Boris: that was Mr Neil's spirited response. Whether he was genuinely protective of Boris, or has an alternative editor in mind whose claims he hopes to press later, I do not know.
Mr Heffer, as can be imagined, was not overjoyed. However, he was prevailed upon by Mr MacLennan to join The Daily Telegraph as a generously paid columnist, and appeased with the title of associate editor. (This did not please other executives at the paper, and when Mr Heffer's appointment as a columnist was announced in its pages, no mention was made of his associate editorship.) We may safely assume that Mr Heffer's ambitions to replace Boris have not been extinguished, and we may reasonably speculate that his friend Murdoch MacLennan may have given him cause to hope that, with the passage of time, he could still become editor of The Spectator.
This episode confirms what I have said before - that Mr MacLennan is calling the editorial shots at the Telegraph Group, although he may not seem obviously qualified to do so. On this occasion, he was seen off by an unexpectedly heroic Mr Neil, but he has had some victories. He was partly behind the recent appointment of the BBC's business editor, Jeff Randall, as a Daily Telegraph columnist and the paper's so-called editor-at-large. (Mr Randall is also close to Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, and to Sir David's son Aidan, chairman of the Telegraph Group). When Neil Darbyshire was recently appointed as the Daily Telegraph's deputy editor, Mr MacLennan was anxious that Will Lewis, recently recruited as City editor, should become co-deputy editor. This has evidently not pleased Mr Darbyshire, as Mr Heffer's elevation as associate editor has not delighted other executives. The Daily Telegraph is not a very happy ship.
Mr MacLennan has brilliantly succeeded in destabilising two editors - Martin Newland at the Telegraph, Boris Johnson at The Spectator. Poor Mr Newland is a prisoner in his own castle. Barons arrive on the scene with him barely being consulted. How long he will survive, God alone knows. Possibly, it suits Mr MacLennan to maintain him in an enfeebled state, and continue to make the dispositions an editor should expect to make. Or is Jeff Randall, launch editor of Sunday Business, being lined up for the job?
As for Boris, he may justifiably complain that, having increased The Spectator's circulation to an all-time high and, on the whole, preserved the magazine's reputation, he should have very nearly been thrown overboard. Boris's instinct, characteristic of many modern Tories of relatively gentle birth, is to appease his enemies: he has, for example, carried articles by Mr Heffer, who has long eyed up the Spectator editorship. Now is surely the time for him to act against type. What has he to lose, other than his job, which he almost lost? A man spoken of, if ill-advisedly, as a future PM should not be pushed around by an overweening modern manager such as Lord McGifty.
'Guardian' pulls out stops to attract readers
It is far too early to assess the effect of The Guardian's change in format on its circulation figures, since it will take several months before readers are sure whether they like it or not. But the situation is particularly confused since the paper is handing out 20p vouchers - three million of them, according to one report - to prospective readers. So although the Guardian is selling at the moment about 70,000 copies a day more than it did before its relaunch, which is an increase of some 20 per cent, it is impossible to know how many of these extra copies are purchased at a discount of 40p. Eventually they will have to be declared to the Audit Bureau of Circulation as copies sold at less than the full rate, but at the moment they are simply boosting the headline sales figure.
Never underestimate The Guardian. After The Times launched a price war in 1993, The Guardian took a dim view. But what is this if not a price war by another means, albeit a short-lived one?Reuse content