Profile: That's enough fawning on the Tories - Ed: Paul Dacre, a fresh stamp on the 'Daily Mail'

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The Independent Online
Schadenfreude and hubris are not words that one would expect to come across regularly in the Daily Mail, but it's not through want of effort by Paul Dacre, the editor and a long-time Mail man. An ex-colleague recalls how he used to introduce such words into the conversation without fully understanding their meaning - 'I used to think he was reading the dictionary from A to Z because every day you would get a new word and a consecutive new letter from the alphabet' - and then insert them, inappropriately, in headlines and copy. Hubris got in ten times in one day, to the astonishment of his staff.

Although the popularity of each new word was transitory, most lasting about two weeks, John Major must suspect schadenfreude is still in vogue, because the newspaper does give the impression at the moment of maliciously enjoying itself at the Prime Minister's expense. Rarely has a modern Tory prime minister gone into a party conference without the Daily Mail loyally alongside; rarely has a Tory prime minister been more in need of support from old friends.

The tune has changed. The resignation of the Mail's former editor, Sir David English, a Tory disciple who was convinced that Labour was 'evil' and said so unashamedly as often as he could, let in his protege, a man of a different temper. Mr Dacre may still dance close to Mr Major, but they do not dance in step. Prime ministerial toes are being trodden on.

Whereas the old Mail was supportive of the Maastricht treaty, and the Government's economic policy, the new guard are denouncing the treaty as bad for Britain - although Mr Dacre holds back from wanting it scrapped completely - and are demanding the resignation of the Chancellor, Norman Lamont. When the Daily Mail calls for a resignation, that minister (the most notable example being Nigel Lawson and the most recent David Mellor) is usually forced to succumb.

So it would be understandable if Mr Major, a man increasingly sensitive to the siren voices around him, were to seek Mr Dacre's company at the moment, and he is - he had an hour's meeting with him a few weeks ago, will be having drinks with him in a few days' time, and will have lunch with him next Friday. He is anxious to persuade the new man at the Mail that this is no time for the Tory press to be rocking the boat.

The trouble for Mr Major is that Mr Dacre enjoys rocking the boat, and will continue to do so as he forges a new identity for the Mail after 21 years of mainly undiluted subservience to the Tory cause. The Mail will continue to be a Tory paper for the foreseeable future, but its editor will scrutinise the policies from a less Thatcherite position than hitherto, and if his recession-hit readers continue to suffer in avoidable ways he will make his voice heard. And everyone at the Mail knows about the editor's voice.

A believer, as was his predecessor, in 'creative tension', he has inspired dread and loathing in many a young reporter on the Daily Mail with his booming voice and larger-than-life persona. Reporters didn't need dictionaries to understand their news editor in the early 1980s, except one on slang, and some still quake at the memory of him as he strove to make his mark.

It was terrifying stuff. He would rampage through the newsroom with his arms flailing like a windmill, scratching himself manically as he fired himself up, bellowing as he dispatched them to the breaking stories. Some were his 'creatures', or favourites; others miserably suffered ritual humiliations in the hope that one day they too would become creatures and be given the good jobs. All, however, were singled out for the ferocious Mail treatment. If Mr Dacre never got to grips with hubris, many of these journalists would now like him to find out what nemesis means.

Paul Dacre was born into a newspaper family 43 years ago, the eldest of five children. There was never any doubt where his future would lie. His father, Peter, was a journalist on the Sunday Express, and one brother, Nigel, is also near the top of his tree as number three at ITN.

The world of newspapers was the constant topic of conversation at the family home in Arnos Grove, north London, and the young Paul was never happier than when touring the Fleet Street office of the Express, or more excited than when talking to his father's editor, now Sir John Junor.

In the days of state scholarships he won one to University College School, Hampstead, where he became a head of house. He is remembered just as much for his uncanny ability, in one so tall and gangling, to control a tennis ball on the end of his foot.

From there he went to Leeds University, a Sixties hotbed of political dissent, where he read English (taking a 2:2), met his wife Kathleen and won an award for the best student newspaper. The president of the students' union was Jack Straw and the young Mr Dacre was only marginally less left-wing.

He got his first job on the Express in Manchester after a six-month trial and then spent the next few years in Belfast, during some of the worst troubles, and then London. It was only when he went to the United States for the Daily Express that his current Tory views emerged.

He has always said that he went to the United States a socialist and came back a capitalist, enthused by American free enterprise which seemed to him to unfetter the nation's energy. He watched this energy explosion with awe, first as New York correspondent for the Express for six years and then for the Daily Mail after being hired by Sir David English, the Mail editor and another ex-Express man.

But the job only lasted a year before Mr Dacre was summoned back to London in 1980 to start his ascent. In his 10 years in London he was news editor, editor in charge of home and foreign news, features editor, number three on the paper and then the editor of the Evening Standard, by then a product of Associated Newspapers. It was there that his preoccupation with Europe began to emerge.

According to Peter McKay, a columnist on the paper, Mr Dacre was converted to his anti-Maastricht stance by Christopher Monckton, one of the paper's leader writers, whose outpourings produced such headings as 'Come on, John, gizzaballot]' Mr McKay said: 'Monckton persuaded him that this was the right stand to take, although it took a bit of talking. Dacre said, 'Why do you think you know more than Lamont?' and Monckton replied, 'Because I bloody well do.' He asked me if I thought Monckton was mad, and I said he probably was, but he is probably right as well. Dacre gave him his head.'

Other journalists claim Mr Dacre had always held the views on Europe that he has now taken from the Standard to the Mail. Nigel Dempster, the paper's gossip columnist, described by Mr Dacre as a 'candyfloss merchant' in some rumbustious newsroom scenes during the 1980s, said: 'Paul has always thought that way on Europe. Everything that appears in the paper is his own idea, and he has got a good political grasp. He is a hell of a good editor.'

Nobody would deny it, certainly not Rupert Murdoch, who, unwittingly or not, stirred up Associated Newspapers by sounding him out about the editorship of the Times after seeing the circulation of the Standard rise by 25 per cent in 16 months. Mr Dacre was tempted, describing the newspaper as 'a glorious tapestry to paint on', but Sir David pre-empted the move by resigning as Mail editor, recommending Mr Dacre as his successor. 'Little David', as he was known by his colleagues, had achieved his life's dream.

He had certainly worked hard for it. Sue Douglas, an assistant editor on the Mail for three-and-a-half years and now associate editor on the Sunday Times, said: 'Dacre cleverly identified the fact that if he kept his head under the parapet, and mirrored everything David did, the jokes, the voice inflection, the way he sat, he would stand a good chance. And it worked. But it did make life very difficult for most people, because there were two Davids in the office, with the little baby David budding from the other one.

'Having said that, Dacre is good. He did knuckle down in a way most people frankly would not have done.'

Everyone knuckles down now. One senior executive said he had never worked so hard, or for a man 'so fantastically energetic. Everything is done at great pace. He's probably the best newspaper man around and the terrible boring truth is that I really like him.'

Many newspaper people do like him, but few know him outside the walls of a newspaper office. He admits to few other interests, except gardening and classical music, although he does occasionally go to watch international rugby matches. He rarely eats lunch outside the office and had his first holiday in three years in Portugal in August. Colleagues say he has few social graces and is particularly shy and awkward with women.

One female journalist said she discovered a way of winning an argument with him. 'I used to sit on his desk in a very short skirt and sit ever closer, invading his private space. He used to lean back at such a dangerous angle I thought he was going to fall off his chair. He could cope with screaming, violence and bullying, but he just couldn't cope with little coquettish girlie behaviour. A lot of women used to do that on the paper.'

The one journalist who does know him outside the newspaper is Peter Wright, a long-time friend who is now number three on the paper. While editor of the Standard, Mr Dacre would relax by getting his chauffeur to drive him and Mr Wright around the block to hear the latest gossip from the Mail. But even Mr Wright often comes second to newspapers. On one occasion, Mr Wright was driving his own car when he saw his friend walking down the street. Pulling up, he offered his editor a lift. 'Thanks very much,' said a preoccupied Mr Dacre, as he opened the door and climbed into the back seat.

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