The world according to Paul Dacre

The Daily Mail editor on corrections, self-regulation and liberals who loathe the tabloids.

Don't worry about press regulation; the Daily Mail is going to start running a corrections column. It's taken Paul Dacre 19 years as Mail editor to make the decision, which he announced while addressing the Leveson inquiry into media ethics -- but I suppose you can't rush these things. And it is to be commended that clarifications and corrections will be made more prominent in his very popular paper, as well as the Metro. Perhaps others will follow suit.

Dacre had previously said that "buried corrections" were "one of the great myths of our time", yet has now seen fit to make his corrections less, well, buried. You can't "bury" a correction on page two, much as it's regarded as a bit of an editorial graveyard, so this move is to be applauded. The more cynical observer might venture that it's a very convenient way of avoiding the need for front page apologies, should mistakes ever occur in front-page stories, but let's not be churlish. Not yet, anyway.

If these corrections work, it should be a great advertisement for self-regulation, and would prove the arguments Dacre made today that the tickling stick of the PCC should remain, or at the very most be replaced by an ombudsman system led by retired editors... ah, if only one could think of a prominent newspaper editor with an interest in media ethics who is soon to be retired! Ah well, I'm sure the kind of person suitable for such a cushy job would make himself known when the time was right.

It remains to be seen whether readers will accept this kind of thing as the way forward, and whether this kind of move will be seen as protection enough for those who feel they've been wronged in the press, in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that enveloped the industry over the summer.

What happens, for example, if a newspaper decides against putting in a reader's correction, and there's a dispute over whether there really was an error or not? What happens if a couple of paragraphs on page two replace a larger correction that would have appeared elsewhere in the paper, on page three for example or the front page? Who decides whether that's good enough or not? There are still details to be ironed out, regardless of this move today.

What's faintly dispiriting, though, is the intellectual feebleness of some of Dacre's arguments. If people want to license journalists they should go to Zimbabwe, he says. It's the kind of reduction to absurdity that doesn't befit someone of his stature or his position; "Well if you like it so much you should go to Zimbabwe and see how you like it", is a lazy klaxon used by those who can't think in terms of nuance or shades of grey, and one would rather hope that the editor of a national newspaper could. I'm sure Dacre can; it appears that he has chosen not to.

This kind of argument supposes that there is only vicious state regulation on one hand, or freedom on the other, and nothing in between. It's just plain wrong.

As well as that, he argues that "Britain's liberal classes" are somehow at fault because they dislike popular redtops and that "This liberal hatred of mass-selling newspapers has transmogrified into a hatred of self-regulation itself." Again, Dacre is not a dunce, by any stretch of the imagination, so it's disappointing and dispiriting to see him coming out with garbage like this.

People don't like red-tops because of what they have done, because of the boundaries they have crossed, because of the crimes they have committed -not because of some political or class-driven desire to stamp down on the voice of the people. People don't like self-regulation because they feel it doesn't work. That's the top and bottom of it.

And there's the thing I suppose I take issue with the most: Dacre rails against "liberals" who hate red-top newspapers supposedly because they're popular, and voice the opinion of the many rather than the few; yet he won't countenance changes to regulation of the press, regardless of how many people support it, or how popular that is. Because he says so.

Is that really good enough? And who is representing the voice of the public at this inquiry? When do they get their turn?

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.