The story that David Cameron had a longstanding vendetta against Paul Dacre suits the Daily Mail just fine

With Parliament still threatening to introduce Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, the Mail is keen on any evidence that suggests that politicians cannot be trusted to not interfere with a free press

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The Independent Online

The BBC’s claim that the former Prime Minister David Cameron pressed the proprietor of the Daily Mail to sack its longstanding editor Paul Dacre is a convenient story indeed for the powerful tabloid.

According to the BBC’s Newsnight, Cameron urged the Mail’s owner Lord Rothermere to oust Dacre ahead of the EU Referendum as the determinedly Eurosceptic editor led the paper in a polemical campaign for Brexit.

While neither Lord Rothermere nor Dacre have confirmed Newsnight’s story, it has not be denied, except by a spokesperson for Cameron

But it suits the Daily Mail for it come out now, for a number of reasons.

Firstly because, with the Supreme Court having ruled that Parliament must give Article 50 the go-ahead before Brexit is triggered, the Mail is desperate to show that politicians are using shadowy methods to override the will of the 52 per cent who voted Leave.

Secondly because, with Parliament still threatening to introduce Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 (which would expose newspapers unaligned to a Parliament approved regulator to punitive fines even in libel cases they won), the Mail is keen on any evidence that suggests that politicians cannot be trusted not to interfere with a free press.

Thirdly because the story suggests that the Mail, a legacy media brand, still exerts a huge influence on British politics and public opinion.

Fourthly, the paper (or at least Dacre) hates Cameron. The former prime minister may have been a Conservative leader and an Old Etonian (Dacre sent his own boys to Eton) but the editor never liked the cut of Cameron’s jib or the direction in which he was taking the Tory party. It was the Daily Mail which, somewhat vindictively, serialised a scurrilous 2015 biography of Cameron by another enemy of the former prime minister, Lord Ashcroft. It contained unproven but damaging claims of Cameron’s behaviour while a student at Oxford University, including the infamous “Piggate” episode.

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The Mail and Dacre hold the same former politician responsible for the Leveson Inquiry on the press, ordered by Downing Street in 2011 in the wake of the News of the World phone hacking scandal. This was a source of great discomfort for the Mail editor, who was asked to give evidence in public before the inquiry judge, Lord Justice Leveson.

The mutual antipathy between Dacre and Cameron makes it plausible that the former Tory leader could have sought to lean on Lord Rothermere. The outcome of the referendum would determine Cameron’s political career and he may have thought the Mail’s proprietor, worldly in outlook and conscious of the pro-Remain views of much of big business (his advertisers), would be worried about Brexit too.

Furthermore, there has long been speculation that Dacre, 68, is about to step down. The Mail on Sunday editor Geordie Greig has been mentioned as a successor, although many inside the daily paper see deputy editor Gerard Greaves as the heir apparent. Cameron may have thought it an opportune moment to hasten his tormentor’s departure.

Lord Rothermere has responded to the BBC claims by stressing that he “does not interfere with the editorial policies” of his papers, a view supported by a statement from Dacre, praising his proprietor.

Finally, it is a little ironic, although not at all unhelpful to the Mail, that this scoop has emerged on BBC Newsnight, a programme which the tabloid has constantly lambasted for pursuing a left-wing agenda and which it previously dubbed “a national embarrassment”.