It hasn’t taken long. I am referring to the Daily Mail’s Brexit re-education programme of its readers.
We warned of the ramifications of the coup that ditched Paul Dacre in July. John Smith wrote in TCW:
‘For readers who intend to keep buying the Mail, brace yourselves for a kinder, softer, less probing and less interesting newspaper. In appointing Geordie Greig to the top job, I think Lord Rothermere has made the wrong decision. I also think he has made a big mistake. Time will tell.’
He reminded us of Dacre’s response to anxious readers that the paper would not stick to its guns on Brexit. ‘My answer to them – and others – is unequivocal,’ Dacre warned in the Spectator. ‘Support for Brexit is in the DNA of both the Daily Mail and, more pertinently, its readers. Any move to reverse this would be editorial and commercial suicide.’
It looks as though that suicide process has begun – with a vengeance. In the editor-in-chief’s grand office on the top floor of the Mail’s building in Kensington, the brooding Mr Dacre is present but powerless. It does not bear thinking about what must be going through his mind.
Twelve days ago his successor as Mail editor, Geordie Greig, set out his stall, beginning as he clearly meant to go on, and within a week the Daily Mail’s ‘screaming handbrake turn on hard Brexit’ was under scrutiny in Press Gazette, the publication that reports on British journalism.
The news pages, it reports, already have ‘a very different tone’ under Greig:
After more than two years of telling its readers ‘Brexit means Brexit’, ‘No Deal is better than a bad deal’ and pretty much banning the term ‘hard Brexit’, came the following: ‘The failure of Tory hard-Brexiteers to offer up an alternative to Theresa May’s Chequers plan exposes the essential void at the heart of their prospectus.
‘While the Mail sympathises with some of their reservations about the Chequers blueprint, it remains the only coherent proposal on the table for an orderly EU withdrawal.
‘If they have a better plan, let them show it.’
That’s a clear and unequivocal challenge to the likes of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg who threaten the leadership of Theresa May over her Chequers plan.
This is the same plan that would leave Britain with at least half a foot in the EU, and potentially under the sway of institutions such as the European Court of Justice.
Is this really the same newspaper that splashed with ‘Enemies of the People’ when the judiciary ruled on the need for a Parliamentary vote to invoke Article 50, or targeted Remainers with its ‘Crush the Saboteurs’ front page?
Geordie Greig’s news pages already have a very different tone.
Yesterday the brilliant photograph of Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Peter Bone with their heads in their hands was complemented with stories about a No Deal Brexit putting your holiday at risk and tens of thousands of jobs under threat at Jaguar Land Rover.
Only a few weeks ago those kind of ‘No Deal’ headlines would have been dismissed as ‘Project Fear’.
Indeed. As Fraser Nelson of the Spectator put it on Thursday’s Newsnight (38 minutes in), ‘a bunch of phrases had suddenly appeared in the paper that would never have been allowed in before – the phrase ‘hardline Brexiteer’ that’s new, that’s in the headlines’. He went on to say that ‘Brexiteer’ was being used almost as a pejorative, and the paper was ‘talking about the traitors about to get Theresa May’. Geordie Greig has not wasted a moment, Nelson concluded. ‘He has not phased this in over six months – straight away there is new tone, a new language, a very different newspaper. This is a critical time for Brexit. David Cameron would have killed for this kind of remainer coverage.’
Mrs May and Robbie Gibb, her former BBC communications chief, must be laughing all the way to the party conference at the end of the month. They can certainly rely on the Mail’s support, Chequers deal or worse.
It is not clear what clout Mr Dacre, who turns 70 in November, still has as editor-in-chief and chairman of Associated Newspapers, or more importantly what influence he wields as a director of the parent company Daily Mail and General Trust, a position which he is reportedly to give up before the end of the financial year.
The question is whether readers of the Mail will vote with their newsagents’ bills rapidly enough? Or will they be too slow to realise that their loyalty to the paper may secure Mrs May in office even beyond her BRINO deal? There’s the rub.