The warring after the knight before

The death of Sir David English has left a dangerous power vacuum at the `Mail' group.

Wars of succession are rarely pretty. The heirs apparent of Moghul emperors in 17th century India used to take care of business simply by murdering all their relatives the minute the ruling emperor started to look ill.

So last week, when Lord Rothermere surveyed his Associated Newspapers empire in the wake of the death of Sir David English, he made a pre-emptive strike to avoid any bloodshed on the editorial floors of Northcliffe House. He just installed himself in English's old post of editor-in-chief and appointed his 30-year-old son, Jonathan Harmsworth, as deputy chairman.

So far, so good. But as powerful and influential a figure as English does not disappear from the scene without leaving ripples in his wake.

For a group as professional and sure-footed as Associated, it might seem naive to suggest that the existing order will collapse. After all, English was no longer day-to-day editor of the flagship Daily Mail, and the paper has gone from strength to strength under his successor, Paul Dacre. Having created the "cult of the strong editor", English facilitated rather than orchestrated the rise of the Mail. And upward its has gone, eating up Today's readers after it closed, scooping up those trading up from the mass market, gaining readers in Scotland and nibbling constantly at the sales of The Daily Telegraph. By spending its money on journalists rather than price cuts or subscription schemes it has become the one glowing success in the British press.

And yet it is the very culture of intense competition between its own journalists, subtly fostered as "creative tension" by English, that may have set the scene for some destabilising times ahead.

Rothermere is 73, and insiders doubt whether he wants to look after the shop for very long. His tax advisers already make him spend most of the year out of the country, and day-to-day management has never been his style.

Importantly, Dacre has had his sights fixed on the job. This presents Rothermere with a problem. He needs to try to keep Dacre on board - particularly as Dacre's eye for detail, while still focusing on middle England's broader landscape, is one of the most important factors in the Mail's success. It is also sensible to remember that the only reason the position of editor- in-chief was created for English was because The Times tried to poach Dacre from the Evening Standard. English volunteered to move upstairs so Dacre could be kept in the company.

It is for Dacre's skills as an editor, not as a manager, that Rothermere values him. He is an incredibly hands-on editor, taking an interest in every aspect of the newspaper's production, and he is credited with energising the whole paper - partly, it has to be said, through fear. To move him away from what he does best makes no sense to anyone except, possibly, Dacre.

The further problem for Rothermere is that, if Dacre were to become editor in chief, he might have to look for a new editor for the Evening Standard and the Mail on Sunday. These vacancies would arise either because Dacre would rid himself of Max Hastings at the Standard and Jonathan Holborow at the MoS or because they might walk if Dacre was their boss. Not insignificantly, there is no heir apparent to Dacre within the organisation, although Martin Dunn, ex-editor of Today and now running the company's cable TV service, Channel One, might see things differently.

Hastings, in particular, would be disappointed if Dacre moved up because it was in English's nature to have told both men that they were next in line to be editor-in-chief - he was the king of divide and rule.

Insiders believe Hastings also has something up his sleeve. The deputy editor's chair at the Evening Standard has been empty for some time, and Hastings says he is in no hurry to fill the post. This smacks of a man keeping his options open. He seems to want to know what's going to happen to him before he decides on who to put in the line of succession for the Standard.

What Rothermere may have decided, in the short term, is to steady the ship by holding on as editor-in-chief. The share price of Daily Mail General Trust fell last week, and Rothermere must reassure the City that he can bring stability that will ensure business as usual. But before too long, he has to grasp the nettle of succession, and not just on the sixth-floor management suite.

English is known to have told his editors to start fast-tracking a number of the paper's younger staff so that they would be ready to move into senior positions in three to four years. This indicates a lack of confidence in the current crop of second-level executives.

Jonathan Harmsworth is acknowledged as too inexperienced to take over just yet, but he is clearly a key figure in Associated's future. The pre- eminence of the group owes much to the relationship English forged with Rothermere when he was plain Vere Harmsworth 30 years ago.

If Vere's son is now scouting the company's Kensington offices looking for a fresh-faced candidate to join him on the next, difficult stage, who could blame him?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

Day In a Page

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride