Farewell Paul Dacre. What next for the Daily Mail?

I’d bet good money that Paul Dacre is the only national newspaper editor that most people outside of journalism and the news bubble can name. His name is synonymous with the Daily Mail and the phrase ‘marmite’ is too mild to describe him. He made the Mail the most-feared and influential paper in the UK. And now he’s going. 

As a news reporter on the Daily Mail from 1999 to 2005 I had first-hand experience of Paul’s dominating presence. Through his team of lieutenants – acolytes is another word – he ruled with iron control and fear. In my first weeks, he was reputed to have barked ‘unleash the dogs’ when he wanted reporters to chase a story about Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s disgraced fiancé.

Then, as now, the Mail’s voice was the loudest in the country. The Stephen Lawrence campaign was bold and brilliant. Paul pursued stories and issues with total conviction. Politicians quivered in his sights. David Cameron tried and failed to get him sacked.

While many will pay tribute to Paul, there will be just as many celebrating his departure.

He inflamed opinions last year when he accused judges of being the ‘Enemies of the People’ for doing the job of the judiciary and holding power to account, just like Dacre espoused of the Mail. Their folly was daring to have a different point of view to Paul.

There will be lots of talk today in newsrooms, in Downing Street and across the political divide, about who will succeed him and what will it mean for the Mail.

Will it soften on Brexit? Or double-down? What will its approach to women be? Or immigrants? Some columnists I suspect might be wondering if the new editor will like their take of the world.

My old news editor on the Mail, Tony Gallagher, is now editor-in-chief at the Sun after editing the Telegraph and will certainly be under consideration. Tony’s a brilliant journalist and someone of rare equal conviction as Dacre and has similar views on many topics.

Senior deputy editor Gerard Greaves is often touted as the heir apparent. And Mail on Sunday editor Geordie Greig has done a great job of carving out a separate identity for the MoS. Being a Remainer may rule him out though.

Ladbrokes have Greig as 3-1 favourite, Gallagher at 6-1 and Greaves at 10-1. Martin Clarke, editor of MailOnline is 5-1 and would suit the DGMT’s moves towards digital.

Sadly, there’s only one woman in the frame, Sarah Sands. This is a huge indictment of Dacre and Associated Newspapers as a whole, if not Fleet Street. 

My hunch is that the successor has already been selected. Dacre will formally hand over in November. Does a six-month notice period signal an external candidate? 

Regardless, the new editor will take over as the clock ticks down to Brexit, as Jeremy Corbyn takes the Labour party further to the left and Theresa May attempts to hold onto power.

Big shoes to fill at arguably the most pivotal time in British life for many decades.

Whoever comes in must have the same gut feel about its readers’ beliefs as Dacre – but that does not mean the beliefs need to be the same.

After 25 years of the gospel according to Paul Dacre wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear a new, more youthful and modern tune emerge from Derry Street?

(This article was first published on PR Week)