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Alastair Campbell’s Diary: The Mail is hiding scandals of its own

The paper’s attacks on Angela Rayner reek of hypocrisy and double standards

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Jonathan Harmsworth is far from being a household name outside his own several lavish households. He could walk down pretty much any street in the world and unless you are a part of the gilded elite into which he was born, the chances are that very few of you would recognise him. 

Yet because his father left him his newspaper group along with the ludicrous “Viscount Rothermere” title, and because that group includes the Dacre-ised putrescence that is the Daily Mail, he has a certain influence in our national life.

Newspapers may not be what once they were but the Mail is still capable of driving an agenda. They are helped in this by broadcast organisations which mistakenly think the Mail will go easy on them if they pay excessive attention to their front page obsessions. Hence the recent TV and radio calls asking me to be interviewed on the “continuing questions about the Rayner tax story.” I declined.

The questions have only been continuing because the Mail keep continuing them, their latest obsession being whether Angela Rayner did or didn’t pay the right amount of capital gains tax on what was or wasn’t her principal residence when she was living with or apart from her ex-partner or ex-husband one or was it two decades ago.

It is not an easy one to follow. But thanks to the Mail and a few Tories, the police are now investigating, having initially said there was nothing to investigate, something to do with the electoral register before Labour’s deputy leader became an MP.

The sum of money that may or not have been involved is small change to Harmsworth and Dacre, but that hasn’t stopped their rag trying to turn the story into this year’s version of Keir Starmer’s Durham beer. All while burying far bigger scandals about Tory donors’ knighthoods and peerages, ministers’ grotesque misuse of vast sums of public money, or honey-trapped, willy-waving MPs.

I often wonder how the press barons would fare if we had papers which did unto them what they do to others who refuse to share their politics. 

Currently, the Mail is trying very hard to get the label “two-homes Rayner” to stick. Last time I checked, Paul Dacre had at least four: the lovely mews home in Belgravia, the big farm in Sussex, the vast estate in the Scottish Highlands, and another place in the British Virgin Islands.

His Scotland mega-gaff has benefited down the years from big EU subsidies – Dacre loathes hypocrisy except when it benefits him – and I am sure his accountant is delighted that Dacre chose one of the world’s most famous tax havens for Chateau No 4. 

Of Harmsworth’s homes, the one of which he is proudest is a £40m mansion set in 225 acres on the Dorset/Wiltshire border, reportedly the biggest new house to be built anywhere in southern England.

I am grateful to the Dorset Echo for the following: “The ground floor contains a drawing room, library, dining room, kitchen and children’s dining room. On the first floor, there are four bedrooms including the master suite with a further four bedrooms on the second floor plus nanny’s quarters and playroom.

“All bathrooms are said to be made from solid marble and the domestic staff quarters below stairs feature no fewer than 20 rooms including garden chairs room, boot room, gun room, wine store, study and staff sitting room. Outside manicured lawns sweep away from the property.” How lovely. 

The Viscount (ffs!) is a non-dom whose businesses are organised through a complex web of offshore holdings and trusts. It sounds splendidly, multi-millionairedly tax efficient, although his spokesperson insists he “receives absolutely zero tax advantage and pays UK tax on his worldwide income and capital gains”.

I wonder if he ever swaps notes with fellow non-dom “Lord” Michael Ashcroft, in whose book the Rayner story (sic) first emerged, about just how many millions they have been able to keep for themselves, which lesser mortals would have had to pay into the UK Exchequer.

The Mail went for Starmer over the Durham beer because they rightly felt the Labour leader was being seen as such a contrast in morals to Boris Johnson. Now Johnson is toast and Starmer looks set to become PM. 

They needed a new target. Who better than a working-class woman who might have popular appeal because of her remarkable back story, escaping the kind of poverty Harmsworth has never encountered and Dacre would never cover, and who has very strong views that the self-serving media elite have had it too good for too long? She is getting up all the right noses. Long may it last. 

And thank heavens Labour intend to tackle the non-doms. It’s just a shame they have gone soft on Leveson and the long-overdue investigation into relations between press and police.

Back in the day when it was part of my job to be civil to these people, Fiona and I attended a dinner with the Viscount and Viscountess (it gets more ridiculous every time you say it), hosted by Tony and Cherie Blair. 

At the time Richard Desmond owned the Express and had ordered dog-eat-dog attacks on the Mail, a rare occasion on which they have had a tiny taste of the treatment their papers mete out to anyone Dacre dislikes. 

The Viscountess became quite emotional. “It’s one thing to go for the people in charge. But when they go for the family… it is intolerable.”

Tony and Cherie, Fiona and I, glanced at each other, eyes asking the same question: Are these people for real?

Four times as many people would trust Keir Starmer to put up a shelf than they would trust Rishi Sunak. That was my favourite finding from the new Rest Is Politics poll, which we launched on the podcast last week. 

On the one hand, it is a bit trivial; on the other, alongside all the other “thermometer” questions we asked of 2,000 people, it helped a very clear picture emerge – of Sunak with a real out-of-touch problem, and the sense that he can’t actually do much; and of Starmer as a pretty normal human being who can probably get stuff done. 

That is in its own way just as revealing as “how would you vote if there was a general election tomorrow?” Because there isn’t.

The worry for Sunak is that on all positive leadership attributes – strong, determined, good in a crisis etc – he trails Starmer, and on all negatives – unprincipled, sleazy, posh – he leads him. The worry for Starmer is that there are still an awful lot of “don’t knows”.

Funny old game, football. Harry Kane left Tottenham for perennial Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich in order to win trophies. Despite his record-breaking goalscoring, his new team was knocked out of the German Cup early on, and has been trounced in the race for the League title by Bayer Leverkusen, who have been helped by another London-born footballer, Nathan Tella.

And where was Tella last season, as Harry was playing his final games for Spurs? He was helping Burnley get promoted to the Premier League. 

When the two of them left for Germany, no prizes for guessing who was favourite to pick up a championship medal in their first season. Not Nathan. For Harry, the hunt goes on.

Ripley (Netflix). Has there been anything better on telly for a long, long time?

You’ll need to go far to see better acting or moodier cinematography. Black and white is a touch of genius.

We’re only six episodes in, so no spoilers, please.

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