There are certain truisms about British national life that cannot be stated often enough if we are to save the country from the course of decline on which it is currently headed.
One of them, as explained by my partner Fiona Millar’s brilliant frontpage article last week, is that Britain will never be a real meritocracy while the self-appointed “great and good” continue to use private education for self-serving social engineering. A second is that society continues to be run largely by and for men, and women have to fight harder to get to the top and even harder to stay there. A third is that Brexit was sold on lies and crimes and misdemeanours and no matter how much Tory and Labour trade slogans about “getting Brexit done” or “making Brexit work”, it is never going to work to the benefit of the British people and the British economy or our standing in the world.
A fourth is that Paul Dacre is a c**t. I would not normally use the C-word, even asterisked, for I know how offensive many find it. But it is impossible to write about Dacre without it, especially as I do so having just seen Tim Walker’s play, Bloody Difficult Women, in which the non-knighted, non-ennobled Daily Mail veteran uses the C-word not merely as a noun, but as verb, adverb and adjective. “Does he really speak like that?” Fiona whispered, mid-Dacre rant. Yes, he does.
The difficult women in the title of the play, currently on at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, are Gina Miller and Theresa May, the former famous, and hated by Brextremists such as Dacre, for taking the latter to court over the then prime minister’s attempt to get Brexit done without proper parliamentary scrutiny. Both women are portrayed sensitively and come across as complex, driven human beings desperately trying to do what they believe to be the right thing, regardless of the problems this causes them. Dacre comes across as a foulmouthed, hateful, self-aggrandising, power-crazed, comedic putrescence. So I would say Walker has got to the core of all three.
Make that four. Hovering offstage, never seen, his name never mentioned, is the relentless ambition of Boris Johnson. Mrs May’s contempt for the man she – foolishly in my view – made foreign secretary is matched by her disdain for another Old Etonian occupant of No 10, David Cameron. As Ricky Gervais said recently, “when are we going to realise that the words ‘went to Eton’ should qualify you for absolutely nothing?”
Talking to the producers afterwards, I learned that Dacre had been using the Mail’s lawyers to bombard them with demands to see the script in advance, a typical, pathetic attempt at intimidation rightly seen off by the theatre, but not without having to resort to lawyers themselves. Here we come to the core of the Dacre c**tishness … the fact that, like all bullies, he is so good at dishing it out, but cannot bear to take it.
It’s why ultimately he has dodged a bullet in failing to land the job as chair of Ofcom, possibly his last available route to the knighthood given to his predecessor, David English, or the peerage enjoyed by his “boss”, Jonathan Harmsworth, the Fourth Viscount Rothermere, who got The Mail as part of his inheritance when the Third Viscount joined the Hitlerbacking First Viscount in the great newsroom in the sky.
Dacre at Ofcom would have brought with it a level of scrutiny with which I doubt the poor tortured soul would be able to cope, even with the protection he gets from the corrupt “dog doesn’t eat dog” culture in which editors tend to go easy on each other while destroying others with venom and glee.
Inevitably, a few social media trolls assumed it must have been my elevated – ahem – position as “editor-at- large” of this great organ that led to Fiona, my partner of 42 years, having last week’s front-cover slot. Not guilty! It was the idea of our founder and editor-in-chief, Matt Kelly, to get her to write about the damage done to Britain by our public schools, given a lifetime campaigning for better state schools. In newspaperland, editor-in-chief trumps editor-at-large.
When I discussed her piece and the issues it raised with Old Etonian former Tory cabinet minister Rory Stewart on our new podcast, The Rest Is Politics, he kept bringing the discussion back to prisons! An interesting psychological response, Mr Freud might suggest. Rory asked me if I would abolish private schools. I said yes, as the Finns have effectively done, which might explain why Finland so regularly tops the world school rankings; but I also accepted it was politically nigh on impossible.
Part of the reason was clear from the Sutton Trust graphics that illustrated Fiona’s article. Though just 7% of children are privately educated, the figure for the cabinet is 64%, judges 65%, House of Lords members 57%, junior ministers and diplomats 52%, newspaper columnists 44%.
For editors it is even higher, and the last time I checked, no national newspaper editor used state schools for their own children. Which is why it suits their agenda to run them down, and justify their privilege-purchasing go private decisions, on the grounds poor Dominic and Tabitha couldn’t possibly get a decent schooling in an “ordinary” school full of “ordinary” kids.
It is bad enough watching Boris Johnson drop lies and smears from his lips practically every time they open. It compounds the obscenity to see ministers and MPs defend him or, in Rishi Sunak’s case, say that no, he wouldn’t have used those words – equating a Brexit referendum won on lies with the heroic defence of their homeland by Ukrainians – “and nor did Boris Johnson”. Come again! You were just played the clip in which he said them, chancellor.
Johnson debases himself, and our politics, all too often and all too easily. But so do his MPs, every time they defend him, and every day they tolerate him as their leader. Following on from his smear seeking to link Sir Keir Starmer to Jimmy Savile, the Ukraine/Brexit deliberate analogy, and accusing Labour of being prepared to “run up the white flag” to Putin, is confirmation that Johnson will continue to campaign as Britain’s Trump.
Jacob Rees-Mogg probably thought he was among friends when he told the Tories’ spring conference that the war in Ukraine had reminded us politics was serious – weird it took the prospect of a third world war for him to realise – and dismissed Partygate as mere “fluff”. LBC Radio called me up to give my view. Hearing @ToryBoy Andrew Pierce was presenting, and feeling up for a fight, I agreed to do so. It quickly became apparent that Pierce thought Rees-Mogg was both politically stupid to have said it, and totally wrong to dismiss lying and law-breaking so readily. I almost found myself saying the words “I agree with you, Andrew,” but dug deep to see off the urge.
Pro-Brexit politicians and trade unions fell over themselves to condemn the actions of P&O in summarily dismissing the entire workforce before bringing in cheaper labour to replace them. Ministers reached for the hand-wringing cliches while hoping nobody would remind them they recently voted against moves that would have made it harder for P&O to act as it did.
The truth is that for the disaster capitalists, and the Sovereign Individuals who think they should be above the normal rules and laws of humanity, this is exactly the world they want; one in which the powerful and the wealthy can get more powerful and wealthy, and those with few rights can end up with none. It’s why they had to tell so many lies to win the Brexit referendum. Because if they had told the truth about why they wanted it so desperately they would not have had a hope in hell of persuading people to back it … people now being damaged as the reality replaces the myths.