Readers of this blog will know that I’m not a massive fan of the Daily Mail. And if I keep returning to it, that’s because the cursed thing is impossible to ignore. It squats there in the centre of British public life with its 4.3 million readers like a giant toad, a constant reminder of everything that I most detest about British society.
It dogs my footsteps as I go about my daily business, projecting baleful headlines into my head about migrants, asylum seekers, scroungers, foreigners, Eastern Europeans in England’s green and pleasant land, day after day, year after year. I’d have to be blind to ignore them.
And yet I’m often struck by the fact that (some) Daily Mail readers are nicer than the newspaper itself. This isn’t entirely surprising. On one level it’s not too difficult to be nicer than the Mail.
After all we are talking about ‘journalists’ like Richard Littlejohn, whose attack on a transgender teacher may have contributed to her suicide. Or Hannah Roberts, who recently wrote a repellent story claiming that the 89 Eritrean survivors of the Lampedusa migrant shipwreck disaster had fled ‘free accommodation’ in Rome and were ‘heading for countries with generous benefits’
You have to be flying at a pretty low altitude – well beneath the level of the average gutter – to write something like that about people who’ve just seen 359 migrants drowned, including children. But the Mail has been occupying this flight path for a very long time.
As far back as 1900 it was in Southampton to observe the arrival of some 350 Jewish refugees from the Boer War on board the Cheshire, or rather ‘so-called refugees’ as its reporter called them. Being Jews, they had to be fake of course, and the Mail‘s man-on-the-spot even found that they had brought back smuggled ‘gold’ with them.
The Mail wasn’t too keen on Jewish refugees arriving from the Third Reich either. Typical headlines of the 1930s included gems such as ‘ Refugees Get Jobs, Britons Get Dole’ and ‘German Jews pouring into the country,’ not to mention ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts.’
On 28 March 1938, the year in which Hitler’s persecution of the Jews rose to a new level, the Mail rejected the idea that Britain should offer them protection on the grounds that: “To be ruled by misguided sentimentalism would be disastrous. Once it was known that Britain offered sanctuary to all who cared to come, the floodgates would be opened and we would be inundated by thousands seeking a home.”
Plus ca change then. And yet I’m constantly amazed by the people I come across who are not racists or bigots, who are otherwise sweet, intelligent, and thoughtful, were it not for the sight of the Mail in their hands. And it’s clear that not all these readers actually accept the rancid bile that pours from its pages.
This discrepancy is sometimes evident in the comments section. Not long ago, the Mail attacked Ed Miliband for his announcement that he would be taking on energy companies, but a stream of readers said that they agreed with him. And today, the Mail did something that it likes to do do around this time of year, and regaled its readers with a colourful feature on the luxury items that billionaires and the super-rich like to buy themselves for Xmas.
These trinkets include a ’50million Trump SoHo New York penthouse’, a million Sky Yacht private jet’, a ’14-night photo safari at Wilderness Collection properties in Botswana, Kenya’ a ‘collection of Hervé Van der Straeten furniture’ (‘ a comparable bargain for $460,000’) and a ‘$62 million tree house.’
All these items are drawn from the Robb Report’s 2013 gift guide, ‘ the gift guide for billionaires who have been VERY good this year’, as the Mail jauntily describes it. Now the Mail isn’t blind to the fact that we are living in a time of ‘austerity’. On the contrary, it constantly reminds its readers that ‘our people’ are facing hard times, if only to blame the Labour government, scroungers and foreigners for causing them.
Yet it still likes to publish these fluffy, half-jokey, half-admiring pieces about the conspicuous consumption of the super-rich in the belief that its readers will be similarly amused. Look through the comments section however, and you find that a number of readers don’t get the joke. Here’s a random sample:
‘A gift? Maybe donate that money to someone who is dying of starvation.’
‘my disabled son lives in a house that can only be described as a ‘slum dwelling’ but there is no other property landlord available that will take him because the government has allowed private Landlords to become ‘feudal landlords’ (outside decency) a law unto themselves.’
‘Not since the late 18th century has the gap between the rich and the poor been so obscenely wide.’
‘Anyone who has that amount of money to spend on crap they don’t need should have it taken away and given to charity. What a sick and twisted world we live in where people are suffering and dying because they are so poor at the same times that others are spending millions on self indulgent nonsense.’
So the obvious question is why do people who think like this read a newspaper like the Mail? One answer is their social profile. The majority of the Mail’s readership comes from the ‘C1’ and ‘C2’ demographics, defined as the lower middle class and skilled workers respectively, which would seem to confirm its historical trajectory as the voice of ‘little Englander’ prejudice and resentment.
Few of these readers are likely to have any contact with the billionaire lifestyle that the Mail essentially celebrated today. You could argue that their demographic is in keeping with the petite bourgeois resentments and prejudices that the Mail has expressed so consistently and fervently for such a long time, and which once led it to embrace fascism.
As Marx pointed out, the petite bourgeoisie hovers uneasily between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, wanting to be the class above it and yet fearful of its own extinction and proletarianisation, so it’s quite natural that the Mail should be in awe of the super-rich, while occasionally having a poke at ‘greedy bankers’.
But wait: Research carried out by the Mail’s sales team in 2011 found that 61 percent of its readers belong something called ‘Modern MidBritain’ – a category defined as ‘ diverse, open-minded, well-educated, caring, brand-aware, powerful, proactive and influential’. More than 53 percent of its readers are women, for whom one of the main attractions is the Femail section.
Others visit its online website to take a peak at the celebrity cleavage which tends to pour out of the Mail’s righthand column like an endless succession of faux-Transylvanian barmaids from a Hammer horror film.
After all, who can resist headlines like ‘ She can’t keep her clothes on: Poppy Delevingne strips for racy video… just days after her hen night turns into saucy slumber party.’ Or ‘Wonderbra launches Holly Willoughby-inspired lingerie that promises to make embarrassing nipple slips a thing of the past.’
Isn’t that enough to make your Calvin Klein leisurewear go clammy?
So there are lots of reasons why people buy the Mail, which may have nothing to do with its immigrant-hating, asylum-bashing essential vileness. But for the sake of the health of British politics, I really wish that some of them would stop.
Because if you care about social injustice, poverty, fairness, and inequality, as many of those who commented today clearly do, then you are not going to get many ideas on what to do about it from a newspaper that would always prefer you to think about something else.
So please, if you really care about these things just cancel your subscription and step outside into the fresh air, and find something else to read that also cares about them.
You’ll feel better for it. And so will we all.