Will the Conservatives be rattled by the Daily Mail’s new Brexit stance?

Deeply conservative and ultra-traditional, they’re often reputed to thrive in towns like Tunbridge Wells (thanks to the old adage “disgusted of….”).

In recent days Theresa May has appealed over the heads of her MPs to the public in places like this.

Now the recent retirement of editor Paul Dacre has led to the Mail itself changing.

Mr Dacre’s staunchly pro-Brexit message never failed to provoke; branding pro-European judges “enemies of the people”, threatening to “crush the saboteurs” and challenging: “Who will speak for England?”

There was never any doubting his position.

His successor Geordie Greig has changed the rhetoric – backing Theresa May and her deal.

Mr Dacre said support for Brexit “is in the DNA of both the Daily Mail and its readers”.

He warned any move to reverse this would be “editorial and commercial suicide”.

But his successor has brought in a significant change in tone, so will it have any impact?

David Yelland, founder of Kitchen Table Partners and a former editor of The Sun, says the Mail is hugely influential on one group more than others – the Conservative party and its MPs.

He said for that reason the paper is more important now than ever, and added: “The Mail, the Express and The Sun together set the weather in this country, that’s what mass market papers in this country do.

“They don’t necessarily influence voters and MPs on a daily basis but they set the political weather, and since Geordie came in the weather has changed.

“So there are now only two papers in the daily market that are in favour of a hard Brexit and that’s the Telegraph and The Sun.

“And even there – there is some potential for changing.

“During the referendum there were five daily national papers in favour of a Brexit at any price so the weather has completely changed and that’s mainly down to Geordie Greig and also the Express group.”

Mr Yelland believes the tabloids have a lot to answer for where Brexit is concerned but redemption is possible.

He said: “The fact is if you go back and look at the front pages day after day of The Sun and the Mail and the Express during the referendum, they told lies on a daily basis about what would happen – how simple it would be to leave the EU, what the problem with the EU would be and so on.

“If you talk to anyone in Europe about the tabloid press they say that it is the fundamental thing which swept the vote… at the moment under the new editor the Daily Mail is incredibly close to the prime minister and if it changed direction it could have a pivotal effect on how this all ends.”

Professor Roy Greenslade, former editor of The Mirror, believes the Mail’s change in tone is too little too late to make any meaningful impact.

He said: “I don’t think it’s going to make a bit of difference, I think basically the Daily Mail readers have made up their mind over the years.

“(The paper used to reflect) Paul Dacre’s point of view and 10, 20 years of saying the same thing has battered its way into their consciousness.

“They tend to be people, probably over 40, who are very set and determined in their point of view.”

Comics writer Barney Farmer has distilled the Daily Mail’s caricature in the Viz strip, the Male Online.

He said: “Its about an archetypal child of Paul Dacre, a kind of species of English man who came to maturity reading the Daily Mail over the last 20 years and his strange combination of lust and anger.

“He’s a man fully-formed by Paul Dacre’s world view.”

Mr Farmer says the mellowing of the Mail will make his life more difficult but he’ll continue the strip.

He said: “He’s still out there – that man – the dreadnought that they’re trying to turn.

“All these people are still out there, (some are) jumping over board.

“There will be some swimming out to the Express so possibly the strip needs a new name, but I don’t think there are any good puns around the Express.

“I think I’m going to keep it going just to remind people that yeah, they might be calling for volunteers at the NHS now, but never forget.”

The Mail’s huge circulation makes it a powerful voice in conservative England – and its readers, whether they follow their editors lead on Europe or not will continue to be an important audience for this Tory leader – and any future one.

2018-12-09T22:39:13+00:00