On historic fascism, The Daily Mail’s exposé of Max Mosley is a case of pot, kettle, black

Perhaps the Mail could set an example in its demands for a public apology.

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As I have written here before, Max Mosley, whose family charity bankrolls Impress, the only officially recognised press regulator, has no grasp of the principles of press freedom. The Daily Mail was justified in unearthing details of how in the 1960s he supported the fascist Union Movement led by his father, Oswald Mosley, and in demanding a full public apology.

Perhaps the Mail could set an example. In the 1930s, its proprietor Harold Harmsworth, the first Viscount Rothermere, supported not only Mosley’s British Union of Fascists but also Hitler and Mussolini. As Adrian Addison’s recent history of the paper records, “article after article… in support of the Fascists rained down on… readers for year after year”. In 1935, Rothermere hailed Hitler as one of “those great leaders of mankind” who appear “once in two or three centuries”. In March 1939, when Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia, Rothermere urged him to march on into Romania. The Mail is still owned by the Rothermeres, though no support for fascism has emerged from the family since 1939. But if a Rothermere has ever publicly apologised for his ancestor’s behaviour, I missed it. Now would be a good time to repair the omission, perhaps in the Mail’s “clarifications and corrections” spot – which is normally empty of either, the Mail being, it wishes us to believe, incapable of error.

Exotic assassinations

Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident, was killed in 1978 by a poisoned umbrella tip on a London street. Also in London, Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy, was poisoned in 2006 with radioactive polonium-210. In 2004, the Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko had his soup laced with dioxin. Now Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent (or “Red spy”, to borrow the Sun’s quaint terminology), is found unconscious in a Salisbury shopping centre after ingesting what police described as potentially “something very sinister”. Yet eastern European secret services do not have a monopoly on exotic methods of assassination.

For ingenuity, the CIA’s attempts to eliminate Fidel Castro remain unbeatable. The most famous was the exploding cigar, but American spooks also tried contaminating his diving suit, hiding explosives in a painted sea shell, using a hypodermic needle concealed inside a pen, and (allegedly) recruiting his lover to drop botulism pills into his coffee. Another example of the superiority of Western liberal democracy?

Brand over fist

Now it has swallowed Express Newspapers, Trinity Mirror, owner of the Daily Mirror and other papers, will have a new name. Something with “publishing”, “news” or “media” in it to give us an idea of what it does? No, it will be called Reach because, according to its chief executive Simon Fox, this “reflects what we do and what our ambitions are”. It “reaches” millions of people and wishes to “reach” more. Geddit?

Frankly, I don’t. To me, Reach is just a verb masquerading as a noun. Company names used to convey tangible things: where they began, the founder’s name, what they were selling. The Norwich Union was an insurance company, owned by its policyholders, that started in Norwich. Arthur Andersen was an accountancy practice founded by a man called Andersen. Tarmac produced road surfacing materials. Then they (or parts of them) became, respectively, Aviva, Accenture and the late, unlamented Carillion. Consultants advise firms to adopt names that let them “diversify”. What this means is that, regardless of the interests of loyal employees and customers, the rebranded corporations can gobble up anything they fancy in the hope of making a quick buck.

Remote control

The snow and ice receded several days ago but, as I write, thousands lack water because of burst pipes. In London, 5,000 customers of Thames Water are cut off. In nearby counties, 12,000 customers of South East Water are affected. Rachel Fletcher, chief executive of the regulator, Ofwat, says the companies have “fallen well short on their forward planning” despite repeated warnings.

The trouble is that most of the privatised companies responsible for our national infrastructure – water, power, transport – are far beyond accountability. Thames Water is owned by a consortium in which the largest shareholder is a Canadian pension fund, with sovereign wealth funds in China, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait holding minority stakes. South East Water is jointly owned by investment funds in Australia and Quebec.

Another, less well-known example concerns electrical power networks. You probably thought that, if a street light isn’t working, you should contact your local council. But the problem is often faulty power cables for which UK Power Networks, owned by three companies based in Hong Kong, is responsible. Its website provides a map showing faults it is aware of. I checked on a non-functioning street light near me. It was reported in November and, the website says, will be fixed by mid-April. I suppose a dark patch in Loughton, Essex, where I live quietly and unfashionably, doesn’t seem terribly urgent from 6,000 miles away.

Death becomes us

More news, under-reported as always, on Britain’s declining life expectancy. According to new figures from the Institute of Actuaries, men and women aged 65 can now look forward to 22.1 years and 24 years respectively of further life.

These figures are down ten months and 12 months from 2014. Actuaries are confident that this is a trend, not a blip in a life expectancy graph that has risen since the Second World War. I offer readers two pieces of advice. First, if you have cash to spare, put it into insurance companies, whose profits are soaring as we all die sooner than expected. Second, vote Labour. Tory governments, with their austerity policies and neglect of health and social care, are lethal. 

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article appears in the 08 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The new cold war