A strange event occurred last week. Well you'd think it strange if you knew me. Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail for the last fifteen years, and, according to many commentators the sole emotional driving force behind that paper's political line, gave a rare speech. This speech made me smile. A lot. Normally Mr Dacre, or indeed any mention of the Daily Mail for that matter, has me foaming from the mouth. Speaking at the annual Hugh Cudlipp lecture, Mr Dacre accused the B.B.C of "perverting political discourse.' Aunty, it seems, is :'a closed thought-system, operating a kind of Orwellian newspeak.' That would be enough for most people, but Dacre didn't stop there; he was only warming up the engine with those remarks. No, next in line for a whipping was David Cameron. The Tories' boy wonder, according to Mr Dacre, was obsessed with the corporation. Dacre et al might not even support the Tories at the next election.
It took me a while to translate these comments – much like the nuanced and frustratingly complex German passage I'd put off completing whilst looking at the website- but eventually I thought I understood what he meant. 'Peverting political discourse', means, I think: 'not pandering to racial or outdated prejudices on immigration.' The suprising poke at Cameron stems, it seems to me, from the fact that Cameron is apparently no longer writing Conservative policy based on the day before's Mail editorial line (he was, arguably, when he authored the Tory manifesto in early 2005.) But none of this self-indulgence really explains my joy at Mr Dacre's comments. The beauty in them is what they actually reveal about the thought processes of nasty old Mr Dacre.
Regardless of the veracity of these splutterings (complete and utter trash if you ask me), the comments augur well for British politics. Dacre, long complacent as the berator of governments and indeed opposition parties is now akin to the bitter little child throwing toys from his pram. The Tories' manifesto in 2005 read like a Dacre stream of consciousness narrative which thankfully contributed to their loss of that election. And it's not simply the Tories who've suffered as a result of the Daily Mail's power; it often pains me greatly, as a Labour Party member, to hear cabinet members talking about introducing 'tough' immigration members at the expense of promoting social justice.
Lets be clear about this, the Daily Mail is probably the most odioius mainstream newspaper this country has ever seen. In the 1930s, for example, the Mail extended its support, in turn, to Oswald Mosely (founder of the British Union of Fascists), and, until 1939, both Hitler and Mussolini (personal friends of Lord Rothermere, then the editor.) But the Mail's extremity didn't end in the thirties. Even in the (some would say) enlightened 21st century it still employs such bigots as Richard Littlejohn who
described the recent Ipswich murders as, 'no great loss,' and is, indeed, admired by none other than Nick Griffin, leader of the hideous British National Party.
But the Mail isn't the only culprit of this bigotry. Most of the tabloids are guilty of Mailesque thought brutality. The Sun, for example, runs a column each day entitled 'Sun Says.' This pernicious strip of invective invariably informs its readers (in bold, underlined type just in case they couldn't take the naked crassness of the language itself) of how the country should be run: 'Drugs are bad and anyone found with them should be put in prison,' 'taxes are too high' are the kind of things you might expect to see gracing said space. The Daily Express often runs similar articles, or as it entitles them itself 'crusades,' though its quasi-religious obsession with Princess Diana means that its regarded as hugely absurd by all but its most committed readers.
Don't get me wrong, I think the tabloids are absolutely necessary as a means of conveying information quickly to people with busy lives (alas not everyone can relax in their student house and read the Guardian for hours on end, however attractive it might seem) and I'm not sure whether people base their political views on these vignettes of bigotry, but if they do I'm worried. And a waning of this sort of influence should certainly be welcomed.
Dacre is small fry when juxtaposed with mammoth beasts such as Rupert Murdoch, but this little vignette of bitterness has shown that Dacre is concerned that his stranglehold on thought in British politics is beginning to loosen. We need discordant voices in the British media, but they should never exert as much influence as the Mail has done over the last 100 years.