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Has Rothermere put his foot down?

Or, has there been an outbreak of journalistic integrity at the Mail? It seems some hacks are no longer prepared to blindly support the prime minister

Photo: Nick Harvey/WireImage via Getty Images

Just what is going on at Northcliffe House, plush Kensington home of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday? Mandrake was informed before the previously uber-loyal latter turned on Boris Johnson last weekend that Mail proprietor Lord Rothermere had told his editors and editor-in-chief Paul Dacre the papers had “lost all touch” with what readers were thinking about the prime minister.

After weeks of uncritical coverage, the MoS then laid into Johnson over what he knew and said about Chris Pincher’s behaviour prior to making him deputy chief whip. Yet by Monday the weekday Mail had veered back on message with a leader saying Johnson was still the best man to be prime minister.

What is going on? Has Rothermere put his foot down only to be ignored by Dacre, who remains hungry for a seat in the Lords? Or something even more extraordinary… an outbreak of journalistic integrity amongst a handful of hacks at Mail Towers no longer prepared to blow hard on behalf of the worst PM in living memory?

And what happens now to the Mail’s stalled investigation into Damian Aspinall’s scandal-hit wildlife charity, where Carrie Johnson is on a rumoured six-figure salary as its spokeswoman?

During Geordie Greig’s period as editor, its investigative journalist Guy Adams had been leading the way on reporting on the escalating crisis at the charity. After Greig was ousted as editor last year and Dacre’s man Ted Verity was appointed as his successor, Adams was abruptly taken off the story and it was not him but Simon Walters who was able to reveal in the Independent that the Charity Commission has just demanded Aspinall step down from his foundation amid accusations of misuse of funds.

Walters, not unnaturally, wanted Mrs Johnson as the charity’s spokeswoman to speak to him about what was going on, but, oddly, the foundation directed him to its marketing department.

Adams had last year been bravely asking what Mrs Johnson actually does for the Aspinall Foundation, and, indeed, how she got the gig in the first place. “Carrie’s appointment as director of communications has at least a whiff of patronage about it, especially since the job was not publicly advertised,” he wrote. “Her salary certainly comes at a helpful time for our first family’s personal finances. Following an expensive divorce, and the suspension of his lucrative careers in journalism and public speaking, Mr Johnson is widely rumoured to be feeling the pinch…”

Adams conceded that the alleged financial impropriety took place prior to Mrs Johnson’s appointment as the foundation’s spokeswoman, but he pointed out that she nevertheless played “a key role in attempting to downplay the scandal. Shortly after the regulator announced that it was conducting a ‘regulatory compliance case’ involving the foundation, she issued a statement claiming such a probe was ‘commonplace during routine regulatory checks’. Such cases are extraordinarily rare: last year, just 1.5% of Britain’s 168,000 charities faced a regulatory compliance case.”

As with the Carriegate scandal, the Mail was happy to leave it to another newspaper to break a story that would have been embarrassing to the Johnsons.

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