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?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
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: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Guru Careers: 3D Package Designer / 3D Designer

£25 - 30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an exceptional 3D Package Designer / 3...

Guru Careers: Interior Designer

£Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a strong Middleweight / Senior Inte...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing