LONDON – Geordie Greig has always been a strange fit as the editor of the Daily Mail, Britain’s biggest tabloid. Trained at Eton and Oxford; a former editor of the company magazine Tatler; and a friend of writer VS Naipaul and painter Lucian Freud, Mr. Greig is a suave and aristocratic man described by The Observer as “Britain’s best connected man”. He also opposed Brexit.
When Mr Greig was abruptly ousted last week in an internal power struggle, it caught him and London’s media class off guard, triggering a series of tabloid-worthy gossip. But in some ways it simply meant a return to form for a right-wing mid-level newspaper that firmly supports the Conservative Party and has led the charge on Brexit for the past two decades.
What causes the Mail’s upheaval to reverberate beyond the island world of Fleet Street is the central role it plays in British politics and society. More than any other British newspaper, The Mail is the voice of what sociologists call Middle England, a large section of middle-class, predominantly white and socially conservative readers, most of whom live outside London and are generally sympathetic to the Brexit.
Maintaining the affection of these voters is essential for Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his party. So Mr Greig’s sacking – and his replacement by an editor, Ted Verity, who is seen as less likely to make critical government coverage – will certainly be welcomed at 10 Downing Street, though, according to Most of the evidence is not why the owner of The Mail, Jonathan Harmsworth, made the switch.
“Geordie Greig was, personally, a Remainer and didn’t see politics through that lens alone,” said Alan Rusbridger, former editor of the Left Guardian. “His letter had recently strongly criticized Boris Johnson and his government, causing some alarm in the current government and its ranks of MPs. “
For Mr Johnson, a former reporter who once worked for the pro-Conservative Daily Telegraph and edited The Spectator, a less confrontational mail would be one less headache at a time when his poll scores have eroded in light of ‘a lingering corruption scandal involving Tory MPs.
It could also give Mr Johnson a muscular ally if he decides in the coming weeks to tear up trade deals for Northern Ireland. The move could spark a trade war with the European Union, a war that would rekindle the anti-Brussels passions that have long fueled The Mail and helped set the stage for the 2016 British vote to end.
“It’s an impossible question to know if Brexit could have been won without The Mail,” said Mr Rusbridger, whose latest book, “News and How to Use It” explores journalism in the Brexit era and Donald J. Trump.
With a few exceptions, British newspapers still lean firmly to the right. But after nearly two years in which the coronavirus pandemic replaced Brexit as the country’s ongoing concern – a crisis that has at times seemed to overwhelm the government – Mr. Johnson couldn’t count on an easy media ride. The Mail under Mr Greig was particularly ruthless about the perceived “sleaze” factor in government.
The newspaper aggressively covered the lucrative side jobs held by conservative lawmakers. He broke the story of a Conservative Party donor who picked up a 58,000 pound ($ 77,000) bill for the decoration of Mr Johnson’s Downing Street apartment by his wife, Carrie Johnson. (The Prime Minister then reimbursed the cost of what The Mail, perhaps inevitably, dubbed “Wallpapergate”.)
“There are some things that really happen to a Daily Mail reader, and one is the big cats and people making their own nests,” said Julian Petley, professor of journalism at Brunel University in London. “The Mail is right-wing, but very populist.”
It can also be a crusade: In the 1990s, the newspaper looked at a flawed police investigation into the racially-motivated murder of a black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, at a London bus stop. He also campaigned, with some success, to reduce the use of plastic bags in Britain.
When Mr Johnson’s aides excluded some reporters from a briefing on the European Union in 2020, the Mail reporter joined competitors from other newspapers in protest. In an editorial comment that aptly summed up his approach to hard love, The Mail said, “This newspaper is a strong supporter of everything it tries to achieve. But we cannot be a friend without a critical mind.
Despite all its strengths, The Mail continues to happily tamper with tabloid fodder. Meghan, Prince Harry’s wife, has secured a confidentiality ruling against the Sunday Newspaper for publishing a personal letter she sent to her father, Thomas Markle. His lawyers are appealing.
The Mail’s internal politics are at least as choppy as its coverage of national politics – and Mr Greig, 60, is a veteran of both. Prior to taking a leadership role at The Daily Mail in 2018, he was editor-in-chief of The Mail on Sunday, which often seemed at war with its sister newspaper. As Mr Greig protested against Brexit, the Daily Mail was a staunch champion, under the leadership of Paul Dacre, its longtime editor and a staunch supporter of Brexit.
“I was surprised that Geordie Greig was appointed editor-in-chief, for his opinions on Remain but also for his aristocratic background,” said Meera Selva, deputy director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford.
Mr Greig’s opinions, however, did not disqualify him with Mr Harmsworth, 53, better known as the Fourth Viscount Rothermere. Company executives have said Lord Rothermere, whose great-grandfather co-founded the Daily Mail in 1896, wanted Mr Greig to ‘detoxify the brand’ after years of beating the drums for Brexit damaged its reputation with readers and advertisers.
In June 2020, less than two years after Mr Greig took office, The Mail overtook Rupert Murdoch’s Sun as Britain’s largest daily, with a circulation of just under a million. But politics poisoned his relationship with Mr Dacre, who remained editor-in-chief of the parent company. He publicly criticized his successor for what he described as a dilution of The Mail’s pro-Brexit DNA.
Mr Greig declined to discuss his departure, beyond saying in a statement that he was eager to use the skills acquired during “my years at the Mail, which I first joined in 1983. as the most junior journalist on the cemetery team “. In his statement, Lord Rothermere gave no reason for the reshuffle. He praised Mr Greig as a “hugely successful editor” and said Mr Verity was a “mail reporter at heart”.
Ultimately, people inside the company said, Mr Greig was less a victim of politics than of a power struggle in a changing media empire. Mr Verity, whose Mail on Sunday was significantly gentler to Mr Johnson than the Daily Mail, is an ally of Martin Clarke, who runs Mail Online, the company’s popular and rapidly growing website.
Both are close to Mr Dacre, who himself suffered a setback last week when he withdrew his name from the race for the head of UK communications regulator Ofcom, despite support from the Johnson government. In a letter to The Times of London, Mr Dacre said the civil service had targeted him for his center-right views, calling it a “fake smart with the Blob”.
Lord Rothermere, for his part, is preparing to privatize the family empire, Daily Mail and General Trust. As part of that transition, analysts said, it plans to integrate Daily and Sunday newspapers, which struggled during the pandemic, and bring Mail Online, which is run separately, closer to the fold.
“There is a ‘Game of Thrones’ drama,” said Douglas McCabe, managing director of Enders Analysis, a media research firm in London. “But the key story behind it all is this profound strategic corporate overhaul.”