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Against the liberalocracy

The editor of the <em>Daily Mail</em> sees himself as a victim, desperately leading the defence of t

You might think that Paul Dacre would be susceptible to delusions of grandeur. After all, his brilliantly crafted Daily Mail is feared by public figures of every kind, his front pages can wreck government policies, and his carefully chosen, hard-fought campaigns almost invariably get what they demand.

But no, he sees himself as a victim. In his own eyes he is leading a desperate rearguard defence of the values of the mass of quiet, decent people who are despised or ignored by what he called, in a recent address to the Society of Editors, "the liberalocracy which effectively runs Britain". In his industry he is assailed by a "subsidariat" acting for the liberalocracy. This university-educated elite operates through "leftish and liberal media outlets" with "pocket-sized circulations" and is sheltered from the discipline of public taste by the subsidies of rich patrons or the taxpayer. It exerts a "huge and disproportionate influence" on what people think of the British media with its "drip-drip-drip of criticism" of the popular press. Hmm.

Here is a story. About 16 months ago Dacre, with executives from Rupert Murdoch's News International and the Telegraph papers, had dinner with the Prime Minister. They had four things to complain about: threats to the Freedom of Information Act; possible restrictions on press access to inquests; plans to stiffen punishments for data protection infringements; and no-win, no-fee legal arrangements, which were increasing the cost of libel cases.

Gordon Brown was "hugely sympathetic". Freedom of Information Act changes and alterations to inquest rules were shelved, the data protection measures were fudged and action is now due on libel lawyers' fees. In short, 100 per cent success for the lobbyists.

How do we know about this dinner and its consequences? Because Dacre described it in the same speech. It is curious that he sees nothing odd in the juxtaposition, because to most of us it would suggest that if anybody was exerting "disproportionate influence" and "effectively running Britain", it was not liberals and lefties, but Paul Dacre and his friends. Does he think it was the power of their arguments (some already put to Brown, in vain, by members of his government) that got them everything they wanted? Does he not suspect that Brown's response was a measure of the sheer clout these three right-wing news organisations wield?

But the real meat of Dacre's speech to the Society of Editors was his next demand: that something must be done about Mr Justice Eady.

Sir David Eady is the judge who has handled all the important recent cases involving privacy and the Human Rights Act, and he has repeatedly come down on the side of the individual against the press. This is the "privacy law by the back door" against which we are warned by the popular press. To the old, flawed arguments on this - Eady is protecting the rich and powerful; consensual sexual activity should be exposed when it is repellent - Dacre added something fresh. The judge was "undermining the ability of mass circulation newspapers to sell newspapers in an ever more difficult market". If the News of the World, for example, was unable to report such stories as the Max Mosley orgy (and Eady ruled that it had been wrong to do so), then it would probably die, he said, and that would be bad for democracy.

None of us wants to see newspapers dying, but it does not follow that journalists must be allowed to behave as they like. A line has to be drawn on privacy, and it would be contrary to all notions of justice to let newspaper editors draw it where it suits their commercial interests.Which brings us back to Justice Eady. Dacre's basic demand is that important privacy cases should no longer be Eady's preserve, and if I were a betting man I would now put money on Dacre getting his way. Keep your eyes out for Eady's sideways move, or the discovery that he has too many cases - one way or another, before long he will lose the privacy brief. Such, I suggest, is the power of the editor of the Daily Mail, a man who sees himself as an underdog and thinks the country is run by liberals. How much more comforting it would be if he was going around claiming to be Napoleon.

"Time to say no to Heathrow's expansion," declares the Sunday Times. Hear hear! After all, the environmental case against it is unanswerable and the business case in favour is falling apart. Except that the Sunday Times is not using those arguments; what it wants is an airport on an artificial island in the Thames estuary. Boris Johnson likes the idea, too, though tiresomely, David Cameron prefers trains. Here's a selling point they are missing: if you have an island, you could put other things on it. Such as prisons, a nuclear reactor or two, the Mayor of London perhaps, and even the Sunday Times. It would be only 35 minutes from St Pancras, after all - according to the Sunday Times.

Brian Cathcart is professor of journalism at Kingston University

Brian Cathcart is Director of Hacked Off. He tweets as @BrianCathcart.

This article first appeared in the 17 November 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Obamania