In standing up for his father’s reputation, Ed Miliband has set a new tone in relations between public figures and the most aggressive elements of the press.
The regulatory system that eventually results from the Leveson Inquiry may still not be in place but we have entered a new era nonetheless. Suddenly, it is possible to fight back against a “monstering” without having to go to court. This week, many of the Daily Mail’s victims have come forward to confront it. The new confidence is partly the result of Leveson, but more the consequence of social media, where the Mail’s enemies have been able to raise their voices in unison.
The BBC and Channel 4, the targets of relentless criticism since Mr Dacre took over in 1992, have provided a platform for the editor’s critics. Alastair Campbell labelled him a “bully” and a “coward” on Newsnight; Lord Sugar took to Channel 4 to brand him a “tyrant”.
Many of those who have been too fearful to join the clamour against Britain’s most powerful newspaper have now jumped merrily onto the bandwagon. Egged on by each other, long-established opponents of the Mail find that their cowardice has given way to courage.
Having picked the fight, the Mail now finds itself in retreat, its footing less sure because of the succession issue that exists at the top of the paper. Rumours of Mr Dacre’s impending departure have circulated for several years. He is 65 next month and has suffered periods of ill-health. He has, however, just signed a new contract, giving him at least another year in post.
When Geordie Greig was made Mail on Sunday editor last March many saw him eventually taking over at the daily. Unlike the reclusive Dacre, Greig has effortless charm. His paper was at fault for the latest intrusion against the Milibands, but Greig included in his apology to the Labour leader the assertion that the behaviour of his reporters had been “completely contrary to the values and editorial standards of the Mail on Sunday”. His words were a contrast to Dacre, who has bristled at Miliband’s supposed impertinence.
The Mail’s parent company, the Daily Mail and General Trust, has positioned itself as a company for the internet age. It describes itself as a “portfolio of market-leading digital, information, media and events businesses”, and includes brands such as Zoopla and Wowcher. Mail Online has grown to become the world’s largest English-language newspaper website, with 138m monthly users.