The media column - Peter Wilby on the Mail's new best friend
Paul Dacre, the Daily Mail editor, has long had a soft spot for Brown. He suspects Blair c
What is it like to be on the same side as the Daily Mail? Those of us who have long believed that Gordon Brown would make a better prime minister than Tony Blair are finding out. The Mail wants Blair out quickly and, once it has formed a view, it takes no prisoners. Its leaders and news pages sing from the same hymn sheet, day after day, week after week.
"The Richard Nixon of Downing Street", proclaimed the Mail's leader of 17 March. "The tawdriness and moral laxity of his [Blair's] conduct is infecting the process of British governance," it added the next day.
The following week, the Mail gave the most sympathetic reception it can ever have given to a Labour chancellor's Budget. "Labour glimpses its man of the future" was the headline on the leader. The paper expressed concerns about Brown's high taxes and statist beliefs, but added that "he offers more . . . than anything possible from the sadly diminished Prime Minister". A few days later, consecutive leaders berated Blair for "clinging on". On 31 March, the hopeful news-page headline was "Gone by Christmas?". Alongside it, under "Muslim children call the PM to account on Iraq", a picture showed Blair with smiling children in Jakarta, looking as if he was minded to thump them.
The Lord may have rested on the seventh day, but the Mail does not. On 2 April, the Mail on Sunday fingered James Purnell as the source of an anti-Brown story in the Guardian. Purnell is Tessa Jowell's deputy at the Department for Culture, but the Mail called him the "drinks minister" so you knew he was a bad egg. The paper had further evidence of bad character: he had been best man at the wedding of Tim Allan, Alastair Campbell's deputy, and he had lunched with the Guardian at the Tate Britain restaurant, where he may have eaten such decadent food as "Highland venison carpaccio with apple crackling".
On the same spread, Derek Draper, Peter Mandelson's former spin-doctor, revealed the Blairites' "secret plan". Blair will announce that he is stepping down at the party conference in October - but only as Labour leader. He will then continue as PM until calling a general election in 2009. At the leadership election in spring 2007 - after "a pro-Blair journalist" has published a "highly damaging" book about Brown - Alan Milburn will lead a Blairite offensive. "Then, with all in chaos, Young Turk David Miliband will come up through the middle." How does Draper know all this? Because, having once worked closely with the Blairites, "I know how their minds work".
Is this tale far-fetched? Er, yes (as Draper admits). However, the people who murdered the Princess of Wales, and agreed to cover up the giant lizards who rule the world, are capable of anything.
But why are the Mail papers so solicitous for Brown's welfare and so anxious to see him in No 10? This is a harder question to answer.
The Mail is at heart Tory, and Blair is surely more of a Tory than Brown. Moreover, the Mail prides itself on its intimacy with Middle England, which Blair has wooed assiduously. Yet Paul Dacre, the Daily Mail editor and editor-in-chief of the Sunday paper, has long had a soft spot for Brown, with whom he dines three or four times a year. "I feel he is one of the very few politicians of this administration who's touched by the mantle of greatness," he told the British Journalism Review in 2002. "I disagree with a lot of what he says, but I think he is a genuinely good man . . . of enormous will-power and courage."
Dacre puts traditional family life at the centre of his social and political philosophy, and he likes Brown's repeated references to "hard-working families". He suspects Blair cares more for gay rights, and thinks it's an odd kind of family that clasps Carole Caplin to its bosom. The Prime Minister is too much of a trendy metropolitan for Dacre's tastes.
The dislike is mutual. Though the Mail gave new Labour a cautiously sympathetic reception in the mid-1990s, and its then proprietor, the 3rd Lord Rothermere, even took the Labour whip in the House of Lords, Blair and Campbell snuggled up much closer to Rupert Murdoch.
The Sun and the Times got the No 10 leaks, not the Mail. Campbell, who worked as a journalist for Murdoch at Today and for Robert Maxwell at the Mirror, but never for the Mail, has made no secret of how much he despises that paper.
Brown should take care. He is trying to add Les Hinton, the executive chairman of Murdoch's News International, to his circle. I hope he does not make his old friend Dacre jealous. Labour leaders may need to sup with devils, but they would be wise to use one spoon at a time. Otherwise, they could end up as apple crackling.