As I tore the single-use, plastic shrink-wrapping from my copy of Saturday’s Daily Mail, and fretfully discarded the sheaf of planet-wasting loose inserts, I got to thinking about why the jewel in Associated Newspaper’s crown is such an effective cure for low blood pressure.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a loyal reader of the Daily Mail and have been for more years than I care to remember. It is the authentic voice of Middle England, and I cheer it for that. It also gets up the nose of Guardian readers, and I cheer it louder still for that.
And yet, its regular physiognomic feat of simultaneously combining purse-lipped disapproval with lip-smacking relish never fails to grate, as do its excursions into wilder pseudo sci-fi fantasising. “Are rays from Saturn damaging your unborn child?” “Can this dog see into the future?” And, of course, its women’s pages are a no-go area for me, or anyone else with an aversion to wall-to-wall egomania. For some reason, the Daily Mail has set itself up as a sort of rest home for tired old journalistic mares – Bel Mooney, Esther Rantzen, Rosie Boycott and Sarah Sands – who may regularly be seen in its pages, whinnying and grooming themselves.
Never mind, Andrew Alexander is worth the price of admission. Keith Waterhouse, though in his eightieth year, still cuts the mustard, and Richard Littlejohn is an exhilarating antidote to political correctness, to be taken as prescribed, twice weekly.
For most of last week, however, the Daily Mail became what no newspaper should be – an out and out bore. It started with a entire front page splash, headlined “Banish the bags”. An explanatory caption linked two pictures: “A British family on the weekly shop. In a distant sea, a rare turtle, plastic bags lodged in its gut, is slowly dying. Today the Mail launches a campaign…”
The following eight pages – plus a leader page thrown in – dilated on the same theme. “The majestic and endangered Green Turtle is dying in alarming numbers, because it mistakes the flimsy translucent bags – which could, in theory, come from UK supermarkets – for jellyfish, a key element of its diet.”
On and on it went. Roll up, roll up. “Free reusable Eco bag for every Mail reader”, “Educational wall chart for your school”, “How you can pressure the Government”. “Together we can rid Britain of one of the great unnecessary pollutants of the modern world – the ubiquitous supermarket carrier bag.” Which could – in theory, mind you – kill a turtle.
“Okay”, we thought, skipping John Humphrys’ lengthy endorsement of the campaign and at last reaching the sanctuary of page 15, “That’s enough about plastic bags.” But no, another day, another diatribe: “Day one: A high street giant responds to our campaign by showing what can be done… Marks & Spencer banishes the free bag”. Thereafter, six more pages on bags, including a contribution by Sir Stuart Rose, chief executive of M&S. Speaking for myself, this saggy-underpants salesman is not my cup of tea. Something inside me says that if he doesn’t like plastic bags, I’m all for them.
Wearily turning the page, one finds more cause for pro-bag sentiments. “Celebrities back Mail’s campaign”. Now, I don’t know about you, but if there is one thing guaranteed to make me want to throw a napalm-encrusted nail bomb into a bandwagon, it’s the sight of celebrities clambering aboard. David Cameron, Michael Winner, Twiggy, Nick Ross, Angela Rippon, Esther Rantzen. For God’s sake, can’t someone pull a plastic bag over their bloody heads?
On day three Gordon Brown joins in. Page one lead: “Victory for Mail campaign as PM vows to force stores to charge for bags”. Inside, a piece by Brown headed, “Why Sarah and I know this is right”. “Like so many families , we have tried to make changes to our own lives. We have had solar panels fitted on our home in Scotland… We do all the recycling we can, and compost in the garden too”. Pass the plastic bag, Alice.
On the same page, aaaaargh, more celebrities – though amusingly they read more and more like one of Craig Brown’s parodies. Jilly Cooper: “I can’t bear to think of all those animals that are being endangered…”
In three short days, the Daily Mail ceased to be the companionable, level-headed Middle Englander who sups his pint in peace, and became instead the blow-hard who empties bars. Lord Macaulay famously said there is no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodic fits of morality. The same goes for newspapers.