Brendan O’Neill

In defence of the Daily Mail

In defence of the Daily Mail
Text settings

Who’s more hysterical: the Daily Mail for branding three judges ‘enemies of the people’ or the Dailymailphobes who have spent the past three days promiscuously breaking Godwin’s Law and accusing the Mail of being a paper-and-ink reincarnation of Hitler, an aspiring destroyer of judicial independence, and a menace to British civilisation that ought to be boycotted by all decent people and no longer handed out on British Airways flights because it is ‘against democracy and the rule of law’?

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it’s the latter. And that the irony is delicious: the very people accusing the Mail of being unhinged have themselves given new meaning to the word unhinged. Seriously, someone should take their temperatures.

Was the Daily Mail’s front page nice? Nope. Was it over the top? Yep. Should the Mail have described one of the judges who ruled that parliament must have a say on Brexit as ‘openly gay’? No, that’s unnecessary information. But you know what is infinitely more unpleasant, not to mention troubling, than such redtop moral excess? The speed and fury and palpable allergy to pesky press freedom with which barristers, politicians and broadsheet journalists (whose polite papers may still be handed out on British Airways flights) sought to condemn the Mail and in the process tame it, chill it, rap its nasty, lower middle-class knuckles for this temerity in criticising judges. Give me a scurrilous, outrageous tabloid spread over this prissy, censorious tabloid-bashing any day of the week.

The way people are talking about the Daily Mail you’d be forgiven for thinking its journalists had turned up to the homes of those three judges and pelted them with eggs, or worse. When all they did is subject these public figures to public ridicule, which is in the nature of public life.

The Bar Council said it ‘condemns’ the Mail and other papers for their ‘serious and unjustified attacks on the judiciary’. Unjustified? Members of the judiciary had just made a very important decision on a very important political matter. We can say what the hell we want about that. The Council called on the Lord Chancellor also to condemn these rags, as a ‘matter of urgency’. The most powerful legal heads in the land decreeing that the press is nasty and immoral for slamming judges? What century is this?

A piece by Lord Falconer calls the press mauling of the judges ‘unconscionable’. Oh, calm down. It’s just stinging criticism, words, ridicule. This is the same Falconer, by the way, who helped make the case for the Iraq War — I’ll show you unconscionable, mate. Others imply that criticising judges is tantamount to hate speech. Brexiteer newspapers that write scurrilous pieces about the ‘Westminster cabal’ are contributing to the ‘anti-elites narrative which is firing hateful politics… across Europe’, said a writer for the Independent. The Guardian calls rabble-rousing tabloids part of a ‘mobocracy’ — through suggesting that tabloid poking is ‘hateful’ and ‘dangerous’ and thus presumably illegitimate. How long before fear of the elite or fear of the judiciary are made into hate crimes and added to the list of other ‘phobic’ beliefs you aren’t allowed to utter in polite society?

Then came the Hitler comparisons, that zombie trend shuffling through our infantile public life where we shout ‘Nazi!’ like Tourette’s sufferers at anyone we don’t like. Bishop Nick Baines said the Mail’s front page reminded him of ‘places like Nazi Germany’. Nick Cohen said Godwin’s Law ‘does not apply in dangerous times’, and you know we live in dangerous times when a newspaper criticises the judiciary. He compares the Mail’s ‘enemies of the people’ frontpage with Nazi Germany’s denunciation of Jews as a ‘clique of criminals’. Nick, bruv, have a nap. Ridiculing three powerful judges cannot be remotely, logically or morally compared to demonising and mass-murdering an entire group of vulnerable people. The suggestion that it can makes the Mail’s antics in recent days look positively measured and decent in comparison.

The solution to the alleged evilness of the Mail? The rag must be punished. It must be condemned by politicians, boycotted by decent people who have been tweeting the hashtag #StopFundingHate, taken off airplanes, and basically expunged from normal society. Cast it out. I find this far more chilling than the Mail’s front page. It shows a profound ignorance of the history of press freedom in Britain, which was secured for us precisely by people who were mad and scurrilous and sometimes depraved. Take John Wilkes, the great 18th-century radical journalist who packed his political sheets with the most lewd and offensive commentary imaginable precisely to rattle royals and lords and politicians. Britain has a long and proud history of low and cheap journalism that has played a key role in bringing about freedom of speech and bringing down a peg or two those who rule over us. God forbid our tabloids should ever be tamed. That would benefit no one but the elite (apologies for my elitephobic hate speech).

Guess what? You can be in favour of both the independence of the judiciary and the right of the press to be as rude and intemperate as they like about any public figure. Yet in the fretful, authoritarian and frankly anti-democratic climate of this Brexit-panicked era, we’re elevating stability over freedom, respect for judges over frank and free debate, and protection of the elites from ridicule over the right of the tabloids to sting and rage. This is wrong. Unfettered press freedom is the spine of a free society. Don’t chill it — celebrate it. Je suis Daily Mail.