There’s excitement among Remainers this week as Geordie Greig, the Mail on Sunday’s editor, will take over from Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail.
Constantly clashing with its sister title – Britain’s most fiercely pro-Brexit paper, responsible for front pages such as “Enemies of the People”, “Crush the Saboteurs” and “House of Unelected Wreckers” – the Mail on Sunday under Greig even ran a two-page editorial officially endorsing Remain ahead of the EU referendum in 2016.
“Those who would have you believe in the plucky Little England of the past are selling a dangerous illusion,” it read, lamenting the “nebulous promise, made by people who may not be wholly sincere about it, and who in any other circumstances would probably be at each other’s throats, is not enough to make us take the biggest national leap of faith in living memory”.
So will Greig, described in today’s Guardian as “a staunch remainer”, take the Daily Mail on a new path, away from Dacre’s frothing euroscepticism?
Tonally, yes, substantially, no – according to insiders.
Firstly, Dacre is still going to be around – and in an influential role as chairman and editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers (which owns the Mail titles as well as Metro), advising the head of the Daily Mail’s parent company DMGT, Jonathan Harmsworth (known better as Lord Rothermere).
Yes, Greig is very chummy with the Rothermeres – he’s close to Claudia, Lady Rothermere – but this doesn’t mean his relationship with them will be any different from in his previous job as MoS editor.
While the Rothermeres may have a more liberal attitude towards Brexit than their main newspaper, this is unlikely to be enough to let Greig completely off the Brexit wagon. Rothermere is known to be hands-off proprietor (Dacre thanked him for “the freedom to edit without interference” when he announced his resignation), so won’t suddenly be using Greig as a political mouthpiece.
Rothermere is domiciled in France, where the couple live most of the time, so he won’t suffer the consequences of Brexit as directly as other business owners. Plus the Daily Mail is Britain’s top-selling paper: why change the stance of a successful product?
Yet “the shoutiness” of the paper’s Brexit fervour is expected to diminish, according to a former Daily Mail journalist who’s worked with both men. The coverage is said to have “embarrassed” Lady Rothermere in particular; the couple’s social circle includes liberal friends.
“Mail’s audience is old, and C2DE. Culturally that’s Brexit,” my source says. “It won’t suddenly declare immigration is great. But it will probably jettison some of the nastiness because the readers don’t buy it for that.”
Another source echoes this, telling the New Statesman that – while Greig won’t be attempting to stop Brexit any time soon – the paper’s coverage is unlikely to be as “mad” on the subject as Dacre’s aggressive stance was.
Greig is known as an editor who imposes change. When he took over the Evening Standard in 2009, he ran an ad campaign apologising for the newspaper falling out-of-touch with Londoners’ concerns, suggesting a more sympathetic approach to Labour in future (the paper had been hostile towards former London mayor Ken Livingstone).
This didn’t quite come off, as regular readers of the paper since 2009 will know, though Greig brought his enthusiasm for mischief, glamour and society stories to the paper – a natural course for a former Tatler editor.
The old Etonian’s society credentials could prove tough for Theresa May, whose political position is pretty much gauged according to the Daily Mail’s front pages. While her lack of flashiness as a politician appeals to Dacre (he was Gordon Brown’s “favourite journalist” for this same reason), a former staffer describes Greig as “much more aligned with the Osbornite liberal Tory wing” – which could also bring a more sceptical lens to covering the arch Brexiteers.
Yet the biggest impact of Greig’s lifestyle magazine background has been on the commercial side.
For example, unlike his predecessor at the Evening Standard, he vigorously pursued advertising deals, changing the paper’s attitude to commercial tie-ins as a necessary evil. “He was much more ready and keen to please advertisers,” a veteran Evening Standard staffer tells me. “Geordie really had a hard-on for getting luxury advertisers on board.”
This instinct will be crucial at the Daily Mail, with circulation down 11 per cent year-on-year to 1.29m. Tweaks will be needed to counter this decline. These tweaks may include less toxicity when it comes to Brexit, but commercially, maintaining the strength of newspaper’s mix – lifestyle pages, features, scoops and dogged campaigning – will be a bigger focus.