I cunt believe it: If 'double cunting' king Paul Dacre becomes Ofcom's boss the Free Speech Union will cheer

In Bizarro Britain, a man who hates impartiality and media plurality could soon be in charge of the regulator which is meant to protect that.

In the mythology of DC comics, there is a cube-shaped counterpart to Earth called Htrae, where the Bizzaros — travesties of the comic books’ greatest heroes — live. The Bizarro world is a place where Superman is morally bankrupt and Batman is a villain, where good is bad and wrong is right.

The Bizzaro code reads:

"Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!"

The Bizarros would cheer at the prospect of Paul Dacre, a petty and petulant man, famous for his 26-year-run in command of the bad ship Daily Mail and infamous for his one-two punch swearing strategy, ‘the double cunting’, becoming the next chair of Ofcom.

Dacre presided over a paper that to this day rails against perverts and the lasciviousness of BBC drama productions while obsessing over women’s bodies and never missing an opportunity to print screenshots of the sex scenes that it is most shocked and appalled to have witnessed, paused, rewound and studied with the sweaty-handed intensity of a teenage boy piecing together the burned fragments of a porn mag in the long grass at the recreation ground.

While Dacre was still stepping into a chauffeur-driven car each day and emerging into the Mail’s offices without his foot touching an inch of the outside world or his thoughts of who was to blame for Britain’s decline that day being interfered with by interacting with anyone outside his own family or the employ of Associated Newspapers, the paper he produced was monstrous.

It was Dacre who signed off on the appalling ‘Enemies of the People’ front page about British judges and called on Theresa May to ‘Crush the saboteurs’. It was Dacre who nodded through the nakedly antisemitic attacks on Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph, a Jewish refugee and Royal Navy veteran, as “The man who hated Britain”. It was also Dacre who approved of blaming the murder of six children by Mick Philpott as the result of the man being a “vile product of Welfare UK’.

Then there are less well-remembered stories like that of Faye Turney, one of 15 Royal Navy personnel briefly held captive by the Iranians in 2007. There was a rush to sign up Turney and the others for tell-all stories. The Sun and Trevor McDonald, then still at ITN, won the bidding with an offer of £80,000. And The Daily Mail which had also been in the running — with a larger offer of £100,000 — went for blood with Dacre determined to have revenge. The headline, over a picture of soldiers’ coffins, read: “They won’t be selling their stories.

It’s the same paper that, even in the post-Dacre era, continues to insert house prices into stories about people who have been killed and makes sure to note when a murdered child went to a particularly pricey private school. In The Dictionary of the Scots Languages, Dacre is listed as a verb meaning “to inflict corporal punishment on someone”. And that’s what Dacre enjoys — lashing out in defence of a middle England that he pictures as several million people just like him, dogged by an endlessly nagging feeling that someone, somewhere is taking them for a ride, cheating them in particular and getting ‘something for nothing’.

Defenders of Dacre always point the famous ‘Murderers’ front page, which named the accused racist muderers of Stephen Lawrence, as an example of his capacity for good. But even that is a tainted act. In 2018, interviewed by the BBC for a documentary marking the 25th anniversary of Lawrence’s murder, Dacre revealed that Neville Lawrence, Stephen’s father, had been a “very good plasterer” who had done “a lot of plastering work” at his home when it had been renovated. He explains:

“He did a lot of plastering work. He was clearly a very decent hard-working man. Would the Mail have done it without that knowledge? Probably not.”

Prior to realising his tenuous personal connection to the case Dacre had directed coverage of the murder that Neville Lawrence had publicly decried. Things only shifted after The Mail offered the Lawrence family a “chance to put the record straight” in an exclusive interview. Why was the record not straight to begin with? Because The Mail had did what it always does and immediately placed suspicion on a young black man rather than the white men who killed him. Lucky Neville Lawrence was such a good plasterer or even the crumb of justice his family finally received might have been denied to them.

Steve Baker — Beaker from The Muppets, if he’d been radicalised by Margaret Thatcher’s autobiography — the Conservative MP and leading light of the dim bulbs in the Covid Recovery Group, told Sky News that he was delighted about the prospect of Dacre at Ofcom:

Well, they’re Conservatives. They might actually start to look at the way the media functions and ensure there is some impartiality. I can assure you that from my point of view, time and again during interviews, I’ve felt there was a consensus of thought on the side of the broadcaster which was not on the side of moderate mainstream Conservatives.

That Baker, a born-again Christian who opposed gay marriage and called for the “denationalisation” of marriage, doesn’t really believe in climate change, wanted not only Brexit but the EU to be “wholly torn down”, and advocates a return to the gold standard, considers himself ‘moderate’ shows the unhinged quality of the modern Conservative Party.

Baker’s definition of ‘impartiality’ as “More broadcasters that agree with me,” is shared by many in his party and across the right in British politics more generally. It’s why they are frothing with excitement about the prospect of GB News, an unabashedly right-wing outlet, launching itself onto the airwaves like a pub bore belly-flopping onto a bouncy castle.

Dacre at Ofcom would cause a further headache for the BBC, which is already a kind of Tory Vichy State with ex-Conservative council candidate Tim Davie in place as Director-General and Tory donor (£450,000!) and Rishi Sunak mentor Richard Sharp becoming BBC Chairman this month, but it’s not the only thing to be worried about. As Ofcom Chair, Dacre would have responsibility for the regulator’s new role as the UK’s internet watchdog and definer of “online harms”.

Perhaps Dacre, the purse-lipped immoral conscience of middle England, should look to MailOnline, the online sewage pipe fed in part by his former paper when he considers what constitutes “grooming, bullying, and pornographer”. After all the Mail has long been keen on telling its readers when young celebrities move from child to “all grown up”, loves to plaster people across its pages for public shaming, and has never missed an opportunity to leer over nudity while simultaneously wagging its finger.

But all those things are done by a right-wing paper so in the Dacre mindset they are ‘free speech’. If they were done by The Guardian, a paper for which Dacre has a passionate hatred or the BBC which his Daily Mail framed as a nest of Marxists and other n’erdowells, it would be a different matter. It’s a common distinction on the right:

Free speech should be free when it’s coming out of the mouth of a right-winger but should be shut down immediately if someone to the left of Franco.

A perfect example of the perverted prism through which the right considers free speech was delivered this weekend by… The Daily Mail. Presenting a new project, Free Speech Champions, as a grassroots expression of student dissatisfaction it wrote:

Students are launching a nationwide project to champion free speech in universities over fears that debate is being stifled in favour of woke culture.

It aims to address a free-speech crisis on campuses and encourage the young to embrace wide-ranging opinions without the fear of saying the 'wrong' thing.

The news comes after a survey found more than a quarter of students censored their own views on politics or ethical matters, and 40 per cent believed their careers would be harmed if they expressed their true thoughts.

Only the driving force behind ‘Free Speech Champions’ is Inaya Folarin Iman, a former Brexit Party candidate, Spiked Online columnist, and… director of Toby Young’s Free Speech ‘Union’. It’s about as grassroots as half a tonne of astroturf.

The Daily Mail does bury mention of the Free Speech ‘Union’ and the Spiked-adjacent Battle of Ideas’ involvement in the Free Speech Champions project later in the article but it’s disingenuous:

The new students' Free Speech Champions project is backed by the Free Speech Union set up by commentator Toby Young and the Battle Of Ideas charity.

It’s not just backed by those groups, it’s spearheaded by a director of the former who has appeared at the latter and contributed to its Debating Matters project. The point of Free Speech Champions is to give the Free Speech Union a foothold in schools just as Debating Matters acts as a trojan horse for the Spiked network.

Curiously — haha — The Daily Mail’s encomium neglects to mention that a group of actual student activists, rather than graduates like Folarin Iman, quit the project in January after realising it was merely a front for the Free Speech ‘Union’. The Guardian reported:

Instead of finding a forum for their hopes of opposing repressive regimes and helping minority voices to get heard, they claim that they were censured if they disagreed with the group’s right-of-centre orthodoxy. And they say they were dismayed to realise that the supposedly grassroots project appeared to be an “astroturfed” front for Toby Young’s controversial pressure group, the Free Speech Union (FSU).

“We have been used by Toby Young to legitimise this project,” said Harry Walker, president of the Bristol Free Speech Society, who emphasised that he spoke in a personal capacity. “Organisations like the FSU are just perpetuating a culture war.”

Maya Thomas, an Oxford University student and founder of the Oxford Society for Free Discourse, claimed: “They said very clearly this is a grassroots movement. They purposely hushed the FSU’s involvement down.”

And there’s the Mail toning down the Free Speech ‘Union’ involvement again. Its story began a little cycle of coverage which continued yesterday with an appearance by Folarin Iman on psychic binbag and Jabba the Hutt cosplayer Mike Graham’s talkRADIO show where she said with a straight face:

“Free Speech Champions is an exciting new initiative set up by myself and a diverse range of students and recent graduates…”

You can expect the Free Speech ‘Union’, its self-appointed General Secretary — Toby Young — and the newly-minted Free Speech Champions to welcome the Dacre’s elevation to Ofcom if it comes. Because what they actually want is the latitude to traffic right-wing opinions across the media without balance, without criticism, without significant analysis.

If Dacre does take over Ofcom, he will join Melanie Dawes who was appointed as the organisation’s chief executive last year. Though a high-ranking civil servant (a dreaded ‘Mandarin’ in the lexicon of The Daily Mail), Dawes is married to… wait for it… Benedict Brogan, now a luxuriously-renumerated PR man but at one time Political Editor of The Daily Mail under Paul Dacre.

With a BBC led by Tories and a media and internet regulator led by Dacre, the UK will have slipped even further away from the ‘impartial’ ‘free’ press that the right claims it so desperately wants. It’s the media equivalent of gerrymandering, shifting the borders of what’s acceptable in broadcasting and online so that only the right prevails. Welcome to Bizarro Britain, all the worst people are delighted.