The former Mirror editor built a career on defending unpopular opinions, so STEVE ANGLESEY asks how can he tell Remainers to ‘shut up’ now?
It’s quite the plot twist when a man who spends his life professing outrage at vegan sausage rolls and calling Meghan Markle a snowflake tells someone else they have nothing worthwhile to say.
Nevertheless, Piers Morgan would like you all to button it. “There are still Remoaners in this country who won’t accept what happened,” he moans on Good Morning Britain. “The divide will heal when the losers accept defeat,” he writes on Twitter. “Remainers now need to shut up.”
On one hand, at least a moment complaining about us lot is a moment which keeps Piers from cooing over the bravery of Laurence Foxkins. On the other, like Foxkins it’s daft and a bit rich, given that the finest moments of Morgan’s career have come from speaking truth to power on behalf of an apparently lost cause.
I worked at the Daily Mirror towards the end of Morgan’s nine-year run as editor (since I toiled in a minor role on the sports desk, I’m certain he had and still has no idea who I am; however, in the spirit of full disclosure he was and remains a friend of another Mirror colleague, The New European publisher Matt Kelly).
Guess what? Piers Morgan was a brilliant newspaper editor. Daring, clever, insanely well-connected. His senior team were absurdly talented. The office buzzed with ideas. We had the best young writers, the best headline writers and page designers, the best reporters delivering exclusive after exclusive.
We even had a vision – to be an intelligent, left-leaning tabloid for an intelligent, left-leaning country. Soon we would sweep aside the Mail and Sun, run by nasty old men with nasty old views. What could possibly go wrong?
A big part of what did go wrong was Piers Morgan’s conviction, vindicated today but then contrary to a consensus of political, newspaper and (marchers notwithstanding) public opinion, that Britain’s proposed post-9/11 incursion into Iraq would be a costly, bloody error. At every sabre-rattling speech, every passed vote, every military manoeuvre, he doubled down. More and more of each day’s paper was devoted to brilliant reportage and detailed analysis of the impending Iraq catastrophe, which meant less and less space for showbiz, sport, stunts and all the fun of the tabloid fair.
Sales plummeted. Even some of the readers who supported his Iraq stance were confused and bored. Others, especially in the military heartland of Essex, where many Mirror staff lived because of its proximity to our Canary Wharf office, were aggressively hostile. Colleagues traipsed in with tales of being harangued in their local pubs, in the shop, at the school gate.
On April 1, 2003, Morgan noted in his diary: “Sales of the Mirror have fallen off a cliff. I’ve tried very hard to offer unequivocal support for our brave soldiers without withdrawing our line that this war is wrong. It’s an impossible set of balls to juggle and our readers are rejecting it. If this carries on, I’ll be out of a job. But we can’t back down now.”
A year later, after the strength of his convictions led to misplaced faith in a set of faked photographs purporting to show abuse of Iraqi prisoners by British troops, Morgan was out of a job. Forces of nature are hard to keep down, however, and no-one who worked at the Mirror was remotely surprised to see him quickly parlay disaster in the UK into triumph in the USA, first as a panellist on America’s Got Talent and in January 2011 as CNN’s replacement for legendary talk show host Larry King.
Piers Morgan Tonight promised a lighter, more celeb-driven mix than King’s and by late February’s interview with a bewildering Charlie Sheen he had doubled ratings to 1.34 million and, seemingly, captured the zeitgeist. What could possibly go wrong?
Again, it was Morgan’s conscience and his willingness to stand up for an unpopular cause. On July 20, 2012, a mass shooting at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado killed 12 and Morgan began to bang the drum for gun control. On December 14, 20 children were among the 26 who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and Morgan’s drumbeat grew louder.
A member of the pro-firearms lobby who appeared on his show a week later was called “an unbelievably stupid man”, “dangerous” and an “idiot.” Defenders of the second amendment were appalled and ratings fell, but Morgan doubled down even as president Obama’s attempts to ban assault weapons and introduce background checks for firearms buyers foundered in Congress.
By early 2014, with his ratings now half of King’s and a quarter of his Charlie Sheen high, the retitled Piers Morgan Live was cancelled. “Regular viewers will know that the issue of gun control has been a consistent and very controversial part of this show,” Morgan said on his final broadcast. “Some people have criticised me for being too loud, opinionated, even rude when I debate the issue of guns but I make no apology for that.”
Piers Morgan is often derided, and often rightly so. Here, though, are two examples of him continuing to defend his corner, at significant personal cost, because he believed it was the right thing to do. Which makes it Charlie Sheen levels of baffling that he seems so opposed to Remainers defending their corner today.
Whatever happened to “We can’t back down now”?
STEVE’S SELECTION… WHO’S CATCHING his EYE THIS WEEK
BREXIT PARTY MEPs
The non-cricket Barmy Army bowed out of the EU parliament in typical style – applauding themselves as they embarrassed themselves and the country. The best of their final moments came when it was explained that the parliament’s president David Sassoli had decided to enforce a rule banning items including national flags from MEPs’ desks.
When the Brexiteers refused to remove their Union Jacks, a friendly colleague explained: “If you read the rules of this house you will see that we can’t even have a glass of water on the table but we can put it under the table. So you can just put your flags under the table and then they’re there to represent you.” How did Brexit Party group chair Brian Monteith responded to this kindness? With a word of thanks and a remark about friendship overcoming all political disagreements? No, by shouting “MY FLAG IS NOT A GLASS OF WATER!” We won’t be missed.
Phil Bryant, whose second and final term as governor of Mississippi ran out earlier this month, left office warning that if the state made Democrat Mike Espy its first black senator in over 139 years at November’s elections “we will take that first step into a thousand years of darkness”. Quite the choice of words there from the man whose gubernatorial achievements included continuing to back Mississippi’s designation of each April as Confederate History Month, honouring the four-year period when seven slave-holding states attempted to break with the union. Bryant is close to Nigel Farage, with whom he was photographed last autumn at the launch event for – ahem – privately funded American pressure group World4Brexit. In 2017, he said: “If you’re dedicated, and you’re pure of heart, you can help change the world. And my friend Nigel Farage and Donald Trump did just that.”
The wannabe campanologist won’t let disappointment over Big Ben’s bongs spoil his enjoyment of the night we leave the EU. He told Brexit Central: “I intend to go to one party or another on January 31. I then aim to stay up all night and watch the sun rise on a free country.” But how will little Mark achieve this? Will someone have to keep him awake by reading Second World War stories? Or will he be so high on Brextacy that he’s still dancing, stripped to the waist and having it extra large, come 7.30am?
One politician, meanwhile, has branded Francois’ Big Ben campaign a “waste of money” which “would be better spent on food banks or given to people who haven’t got a washing machine”. A typical Remoaner? No, Evie Martin, a Brexit Party parliamentary candidate at the last election before Nigel Farage’s great capitulation.
But if Big Ben won’t bong, how will Brexiteers celebrate? Some typically sane suggestions in the Brexit press included the following:
“Perhaps artillery should be mounted on the cliffs of Dover. In a nod to the referendum result the first 11 shots should be fired by proud Leavers, starting with Nigel Farage and the final 10 by notable Remainers all now keen to demonstrate belated acknowledgement of the outcome” (Graham Hoyle, Telegraph).
“I suggest a flypast by the Red Arrows the length of the UK, although starting at the Scottish border so as not to upset Remainers in the Highlands” (Mike Quinn, Mail)
“If the prime minister will pay me £500 and cover my travel expenses, I will provide a new sledgehammer and then hit the bell 11 times to mark Brexit on January 31 at 11pm. The hammer could then be auctioned for charity” (Peter Smith, Express).