Why is Paul Dacre so bloody angry?
Bish! Take that you snobbish BBC. Bosh! And that you upstart Indy. Bash! Down goes Toynbee. Our man in a hard hat was there to see a rare outing of the legendary 'Mail' editor
Sunday 28 January 2007
Our text is Paul's epistle to the subsidarians. The Paul in question is Dacre, editor-in-chief of the Mail, a man sent to honour the traditional middle classes and to defend that which is good, while all about him lie change and decay.
The subsidarians we will come to. Dacre delivered his message last week, as the Cudlipp Lecture, to a packed theatre in the London College of Communication. This was an Event. Dacre, unlike some less publicity-shy editors, does not appear, let alone speak, in public. He prefers the glass atrium of the Mail HQ in Kensington High Street. He believes editors are not celebrities but are there to edit newspapers, and that this is best done in the office or on the backbench, where he can impose his clarity of vision and deep convictions on the printed page.
His disciples were there in force - Ann Leslie, Veronica Wadley, Robin Esser, Charles Garside, even his proprietor, Lord Rothermere. And so were those he was soon to lash, such as John Cole, late of the "neo-Marxist" BBC and Roger Alton, editor of the pink Observer.
An aura surrounds Dacre. Fellow editors hold him in some awe, and not just because he earns much more than all of them. Even editors who hate the Mail admire his "professionalism" - their regular word for those they cannot love but reluctantly admire. This is because the Mail, daily and on Sunday, is very successful; only The Sun and the News of the World, Rupert Murdoch's cash cows, outsell them on their respective publication days.
In a period of depression for newspapers, with falling circulations and advertising revenues, the Mail titles have done well. Dacre reminded us that the Daily Mail is selling 500,000 more copies than it did in 1970. With a statistical flick of the wrist he turned that into an extra four million copies - if you include The Mail on Sunday and Metro, other Associated Newspapers titles. Why did he omit London Lite? That would have given him another 400,000.
To listen to Dacre is to know at once why the Mail is what it is. It is his creature, albeit inherited from David English. His beliefs are the Mail's beliefs and, because few would doubt the paper's closeness to its audience, its readers' beliefs. Apart from his £1.3m income, Dacre is just like a Mail reader. Which is why he is such a good Mail editor.
The paper is said to reflect middle England, the old, small "c" conservative bedrock on which this land is built. The Mail is for Britain and against Europe; against welfare (particularly "scroungers") and for those who "stand on their own feet"; against crime (too much) and for punishment (too little); against public sector and for private sector; against liberal values and for traditional values; for marriage and the family and against other arrangements; against asylum and concerned about multiculturalism.
Deep down, the Mail is nostalgic for what it regards as better times. It thinks little improves, most things get worse. The paper carries total conviction because its credo is the editor's, and he has the journalistic talent and leadership to deliver it. He goes further, as his lecture made clear.
There was none of the legendary ferocity when behind the editor's desk, the insistence on getting what he wants; his speech was delivered calmly and quietly. But where he went further was in his depiction of those whom he and his paper represents as victims - an oppressed class. And what made it worse for him was that the oppressors, those who were dragging the country down, were not making money. If you were not profitable and yet still existed, you were, in Dacre's view, subsidised - a member of the "subsidariat". That included the Independent, Guardian and Times, which did not, as standalone products, make a profit. But of course they are not standalone products, any more than the Mail is.
Dacre sees a connection between lack of profit and supporting liberal views, of which he disapproves: "Subsidised papers are, by definition, unable to survive in a free market. Their journalism and values - invariably liberal, metropolitan and politically correct, and I include the pinkish Times here - don't connect with sufficient readers to be commercially viable." And yet these papers do survive, and there are many models of cross- subsidy in international corporations - of one part of a business sustaining another.
"Britain needs greater freedom, plurality and diversity in its media," said Dacre, while insisting membership of the club required absence of "'subsidy". How plural or diverse would that leave the media?
But Dacre saved his real rant for the BBC, the dominant player in the subsidariat. It was a monolith, a behemoth, too big, too powerful. It exercised a kind of cultural Marxism, undermining conservative society by turning all its values on their heads. The BBC reflected the views of a tiny metropolitan minority and was consumed by the kind of political correctness that was actually patronisingly contemptuous of what it described as ordinary people. Having started as an admirable philosophy of tolerance, that correctness had become an intolerant creed enabling a self-appointed elite to impose its minority values on the great majority.
"Socially the BBC is snobbish," he said. "It is disdainful... of the values of the decent lower middle classes as they strive to raise their families, respect the traditions of this country, obey the law and get by on their comparatively meagre incomes."
The Mail, however, knows what they want. Just one day last week: "Blair caves in over gay laws"... "So much for 2000 years of Christianity."
Or try this: "Twice the courts had the chance to put drug addict Sean Francis behind bars for beating his girlfriend and threatening to kill her. Twice they let him walk free. So what happened next? Less than 24 hours after his second release, Francis stabbed Wendy Billing to death in front of their toddler son. Remember Tony Blair's promise, all those years ago, to be 'tough on crime'."
Or try this: "Why now, more than ever, we need our middle classes"... "What possible explanation can there be [for fewer claiming to be middle class these days]? Well, one immediately springs to mind. It is that under New Labour, the liberal chatterers who constitute so much of the media and established political class openly sneer at the middle classes."
The Mail has long been critical of the BBC, as it has of Channel 4. But Radio 4's Today programme reported his lecture without comment. And The Guardian, whom Dacre resents for carrying so many BBC job ads, ran an edited text of his speech.
"It's my contention," Dacre said, "that the subsidariat, dominated by the BBC monolith, is distorting Britain's media market, crushing journalistic pluralism and imposing a monoculture that is inimical to healthy democratic debate."
There we were again, with journalistic pluralism threatened. I can see what Dacre means by a liberal, metropolitan agenda dominating some newspapers, but then I can also see a Daily Mail agenda, and that is on the same news-stand. Isn't that pluralism? I can see what he means about the BBC and political correctness. But only in pockets, and anyone who listens to the phone-ins will hear Daily Mail views well represented.
So why does Dacre feel so oppressed on behalf of his readers? His papers, on his own testimony - and it is fair - are successful in terms of sales and profitability. He is admired by his peers for the quality of his exclusive news stories, the consistency of his newspapers, the accuracy with which he targets his readers. The politicians take note of him - indeed, the Mail has political influence. He employs talented journalists, many of whom achieve near-celebrity status.
It all feels familiar. For so many years, I remember being bored by those on the left going on and on about the "Tory press". It gave Labour no chance of ever gaining power. And then Labour won.
And now we have the Mail's editor going on about the subsidariat, and the fears for lack of diversity and pluralism. I wasn't worried before, and I am not worried now. Dacre and the Mail will cope. But why is he so cross?
I think Dacre feels he is not changing the world, or rather not in the Mail's direction. He has all those readers, but Labour governments keep getting elected. And if he gets a Cameron government, he won't like that.
The middle class grows and grows, but not enough of its members adopt a Mail view of the world. They'll take bits of it - a bit of crime, a bit of asylum - but they fear the full package.
When he was Sue Lawley's castaway on Desert Island Discs in 2004, he chose as his one luxury a year's subscription to The Guardian. Does he have a sense of irony, so absent from the paper he edits? After all, the show was BBC radio, a subsidariat product. But then, as Dacre also said in his lecture last week, "the BBC is, in many ways, a wonderful organisation". In spite of everything, he would pay the licence fee for Radio 4 alone.
Lefties beware: the thoughts of the man from the 'Mail'
* "What of the so-called 'quality papers' - a misleading term when you consider that the Mail titles have more quality readers than most of the 'quality' papers put together? Well I'm sorry to piss on their parade, but with the honourable exception of the Telegraph... The Guardian, The Independent and The Times are all losing money. Such papers are effectively being subsidised."
* "The subsidariat are actually rather disdainful of the common man, contemptuous even of the papers that make profits by appealing to and connecting with millions of ordinary men and women."
* "What is in front of one's nose is that the BBC, a behemoth that bestrides Britain, is too bloody big, too bloody pervasive and too bloody powerful."
* "The BBC exercises a kind of cultural Marxism in which it tries to undermine conservative society by turning all its values on their heads."
* "Socially the BBC is snobbish. It is disdainful, in particular, of the values of the decent lower middle classes as they strive to raise their families, respect the traditions of this country, obey the law and get by on their comparatively meagre incomes."
* "Until recently, anyone who questioned, however gently, multiculturalism or mass immigration was treated like a piece of dirt - a strategy which... enabled the BBC to all but close down debate on the biggest demographic change to this island in its history."
Evening Standard editor Veronica Wadley has had a heated confrontation with her London Lite freesheet counterpart Martin Clarke. The two are hardly best of chums: Clarke sits on her newsroom floor cannibalising the Standard's best stories for his commuter paper, to Wadley's understandable frustration. It boiled over a week ago with a sharp exchange on views. Veronica, reports say, wiped the floor with him and, for once, the bullish Clarke was not heard to utter his stock response to any complaints about information sharing: "It's not fucking Watergate, you know."
Thanks, but no thanks
When Francis Wheen received a "request" from Standard managing editor Doug Wills to accept a 25 per cent pay cut, the columnist declined the kind offer, saying that otherwise he would happily give up the column. Wills retreated like a whipped cur.
It's all a bit of a blur
"Dear Newsnight Review," begins a letter from one Damon Albarn of Blur. "Can you make it clear to your viewers that I didn't 'go to Downing Street' as part of 'Cool Britannia' as Sue Perkins said on your show last Friday night. That she said I did, I find the most insulting thing ever said about me." The Britpopper signs the letter, "Lots of Love, Damon Albarn". No mention of the G&Ts he drank with John Prescott, however, or other cosy chats with Tony Blair. Newsnight Review is so chuffed by the complaint, they have posted the letter on their website.
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