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Daily Mail and Dorries must drop vicious language

by Luke Lythgoe | 02.03.2018

Theresa May’s attack dog tabloid has this week branded former Tory prime minister John Major a “sticky adulterer”. It also described former top civil servant Martin Donnelly as a  “wheedling little man obsessed with feminism”. The insults show the Daily Mail has lost the argument.

Major’s call for a “free vote” for MPs on the Brexit terms, plus a possible referendum, provoked a vicious backlash from other Brexiters too. Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries called him a “traitor” in one tweet.

The Daily Mail’s response was an editorial calling Major the “most hopeless and hapless Tory prime minister of recent times”. You might ask whether it had considered the current prime minister, or indeed her predecessor who landed the country in this fractured Brexit mess in the first place.

Meanwhile, Quentin Letts was obsessed with Major’s well-known extramarital affair with Edwina Currie in his Daily Mail column, despite its irrelevance to what the former premier had to say on Brexit. Major was branded a “wife-cheater”, “sticky adulterer” and “sometime afternoon hip-jiggler” who also happened to be a “patron of British Gymnastics”. With no coherent response to Major’s argument against giving the people and their elected representatives a say on May’s botched Brexit, Letts went straight for the man.

Letts’ attack on Donnelly was perhaps even worse. Brexiters didn’t take kindly to Donnelly, formerly the chief civil servant at Liam Fox’s trade department, saying the government’s policy of burning bridges with Europe to cut deals with the rest of the world was “like giving up a three-course meal in favour of a packet of crisps”.

Letts’ response was to call Donnelly “wetter than a freshly caught turbot”, a “wheedling little man obsessed with feminism and diversity measures” and a “toothy arm-waver”. What Donnelly’s height or teeth have to do with anything is unclear. Letts also pointed out that Donnelly, who has written for InFacts, was “Oxford-educated” and a “devotee of the theatre”. If intended as insults, these were doubly hypocritical considering Letts’ own appearance in a Cambridge University Footlights pantomime.

Letts and his press paymasters might see all this as the hurly-burly of politics. But the tone set by the Daily Mail is seeping into the broader public debate on Brexit. The same “us and them” toxicity spurs on abusers, on both sides, calling for Nicky Morgan to be thrown in the Tower of London or sending death threats to Andrea Leadsom. It gives the trolls cover for their actions.

It’s all very well for the prime minister to call for a “tolerant” Brexit in her speech today. What she should really do is condemn the Daily Mail publicly. To do that, though, she’d have to be brave.

InFacts approached the Daily Mail for comment but had not received a response at time of publication.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon