Falling sales, faltering advertising revenue, and now failing influence: the iron belief of the Daily Mail’s legendarily foul mouthed editor Paul Dacre that he could somehow bend politicians to his will with no more than a thundering front page assault was put on notice as long ago as 1997, when he instructed his readers to hold their noses and vote Tory, only to see many of them help sweep New Labour into power.
And now that iron belief has been well and truly busted: after last week’s sudden realisation at the Northcliffe House bunker that the chimes of Big Ben were to fall silent for all of four years, in order to allow long-overdue restoration work to be carried out, and the successive days’ front page leads suggesting the Mail would stop the silencing in its tracks, has come the realisation that it was all in vain.
Big Ben chimed at noon today, as a crowd gathered in Parliament Square and around 20 MPs with nothing better to occupy their time looked on forlornly, and that was that for the next four years. Fact. End of story. That has not stopped a last defiant tirade from the Mail, which has told readers “Crowds expected at Parliament Square at midday to hear bells for last time … Plans to silence Big Ben for four years met with outpouring of anger by public”.
Yeah, right. There have been perhaps a thousand onlookers in Parliament Square, and very little anger. That number will have been a tiny fraction of the tourists milling around central London today. Still, on with the Phil Space copy and the compulsory getting out of the ritual onion: “As Big Ben is silenced for up to four years today, MPs are set to gather outside Parliament with ‘heads bowed’”. The campaign has failed. Get over it.
That has not deterred the Sun’s non-bullying political editor Tom Newton Dunn, who has claimed an “exclusive” for “Dropping a clanger … Commons boss vows to fight to get Big Ben’s bongs back as bell falls silent for renovations”. Readers are told “Efforts are continuing to shorten Big Ben’s silence”, but no evidence is ponied up, and none will be.
Then we are told “But the move has sparked an angry backlash, led by PM Theresa May”. So angry, in fact, that the PM is working in her constituency today. In any case, where’s the “exclusive”? You’ll love this. “Commons leader Andrea Leadsom last night pledged to ensure Big Ben is heard during the work … She said: ‘It is right that the House of Commons Commission has the opportunity to review the decision’”. And that’s it.
Someone will have the opportunity to review the decision. And what d’you think they will do with that opportunity, take no action at all or suddenly decide that the Dacre Doggies and Murdoch goons know best, and reverse it? There will be no reversal. No change of mind. No pandering to the obscenely overpaid, swaggering, sneering, boorish, misinformed know-all dinosaurs scrabbling around the dunghill that is Grubstreet.
There are plenty of other clock and bell combinations around London chiming the hour. And the public, whose opinion our free and fearless press didn’t bother asking before ranting on their behalf, overwhelmingly couldn’t give a fig about Big Ben’s bongs.
All of which means Toby Young is not the only Bellend in town right now.