History shows that since it was established in 1896 the Daily Mail has been wrong about virtually every political issue

Wednesday, 7th June, 2017

John Simkin

This morning's Daily Mail had the following words on its front-page. "Today, the Daily Mail accuses Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott - the troika who could run the next government - of being unashamed apologists for terror, who have devoted their lives to befriending the enemies of Britain while undermining the very institutions that keep us safe in our beds. But the ineluctable truth is that the Labour leader and his closest associates have spent their careers cosying up to those who hate our country, while pouring scorn on the police and security services and opposing anti-terror legislation over and over and over again." (1)

They had a similiar front page to the one on 25th October 1924, just four days before the 1924 General Election. It was a series of headlines: "Civil War Plot by Socialists' Masters. Great Plot Disclosed Yesterday. Paralyse the Army and Navy. Mr. MacDonald would lend Russia our Money. Document Issued by Foreign Office." The newspaper then went on to argue: "Now we can see why Mr MacDonald has done obeisance throughout the campaign to the Red Flag with its associations of murder and crime. He is a stalking horse for the Reds as Kerensky was... Everything is to be made ready for a great outbreak of the abominable class war which is civil war of the most savage kind." (2)

The article told the story of a letter signed by Grigory Zinoviev, chairman of the Comintern in the Soviet Union, and Arthur McManus, the British representative on the committee. In the letter British communists were urged to promote revolution through acts of sedition. The letter had been discovered by British intelligence the previous month. Hugh Sinclair, head of MI6, provided "five very good reasons" why he believed the letter was genuine. However, one of these reasons, that the letter came "direct from an agent in Moscow for a long time in our service, and of proved reliability" was incorrect. (3)

Ramsay MacDonald suggested he was a victim of a political conspiracy: "I am also informed that the Conservative Headquarters had been spreading abroad for some days that... a mine was going to be sprung under our feet, and that the name of Zinoviev was to be associated with mine. Another Guy Fawkes - a new Gunpowder Plot... The letter might have originated anywhere. The staff of the Foreign Office up to the end of the week thought it was authentic... I have not seen the evidence yet. All I say is this, that it is a most suspicious circumstance that a certain newspaper and the headquarters of the Conservative Association seem to have had copies of it at the same time as the Foreign Office, and if that is true how can I avoid the suspicion - I will not say the conclusion - that the whole thing is a political plot?" (4)

The rest of the Tory owned newspapers ran the story of what became known as the Zinoviev Letter over the next few days and it was no surprise when the election was a disaster for the Labour Party. The Conservatives won 412 seats and formed the next government. Lord Beaverbrook, the owner of the Daily Express and Evening Standard, told Lord Rothermere, the owner of The Daily Mail, that the "Red Letter" campaign had won the election for the Conservatives. Rothermere replied that it was probanly worth a hundred seats. (5)

After the election it was claimed that two of MI5's agents, Sidney Reilly and Arthur Maundy Gregory, had forged the letter. It later became clear that Major George Joseph Ball (1885-1961), a MI5 officer, played an important role in leaking it to the press. In 1927 Ball went to work for the Conservative Central Office where he pioneered the idea of spin-doctoring. "Ball's subsequent lack of scruples in using intelligence for party political advantage while at Central Office in the late 1920s strongly suggests... that he was willing to do so during the election campaign of October 1924." (6)

The Daily Mail had been running a smear campaign against Ramsay MacDonald since he became leader of the Labour Party in 1911. MacDonald, like Jeremy Corbyn, was accused of being both a pacifist and a revolutionary. During the months leading up to the First World War, the newspaper accused MacDonald, of being pro-German. Lord Northcliffe, the owner of the newspaper, had ran a hate campaign against Germany since 1897.

On the outbreak of the war the editor of The Star newspaper claimed that: "Next to the Kaiser, Lord Northcliffe has done more than any living man to bring about the war." Once the war had started Northcliffe used his newspaper empire to promote anti-German hysteria. It was The Daily Mail that first used the term "Huns" to describe the Germans and "thus at a stroke was created the image of a terrifying, ape-like savage that threatened to rape and plunder all of Europe, and beyond." (7)

Of course, this newspaper has always supported right-wing political parties throughout the world. In the early 1930s, Lord Rothermere began a campaign in favour of the Nazi Party. The Daily Mail criticized "the old women of both sexes" who filled British newspapers with rabid reports of Nazi "excesses." Instead, the newspaper claimed, Hitler had saved Germany from "Israelites of international attachments" and the "minor misdeeds of individual Nazis will be submerged by the immense benefits that the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany."

On 10th April, 1933, Lord Rothermere argued in The Daily Mail: "I urge all British young men and women to study closely the progress of the Nazi regime in Germany. They must not be misled by the misrepresentations of its opponents. The most spiteful distracters of the Nazis are to be found in precisely the same sections of the British public and press as are most vehement in their praises of the Soviet regime in Russia. They have started a clamorous campaign of denunciation against what they call 'Nazi atrocities' which, as anyone who visits Germany quickly discovers for himself, consists merely of a few isolated acts of violence such as are inevitable among a nation half as big again as ours, but which have been generalized, multiplied and exaggerated to give the impression that Nazi rule is a bloodthirsty tyranny." (8)

Lord Rothermere had several meetings with Adolf Hitler and argued that the Nazi leader desired peace. In one article he called for Hitler to be given back land in Africa that had been taken as a result of the Versailles Treaty. Hitler acknowledged this help by writing to Rothermere: "I should like to express the appreciation of countless Germans, who regard me as their spokesman, for the wise and beneficial public support which you have given to a policy that we all hope will contribute to the enduring pacification of Europe. Just as we are fanatically determined to defend ourselves against attack, so do we reject the idea of taking the initiative in bringing about a war. I am convinced that no one who fought in the front trenches during the world war, no matter in what European country, desires another conflict." (9)

The Daily Mail also supported Oswald Mosley and the National Union of Fascists. Lord Rothermere wrote an article, Hurrah for the Blackshirts, on 22nd January, 1934, in which he praised Mosley for his "sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine". Rothermere added: "Timid alarmists all this week have been whimpering that the rapid growth in numbers of the British Blackshirts is preparing the way for a system of rulership by means of steel whips and concentration camps. Very few of these panic-mongers have any personal knowledge of the countries that are already under Blackshirt government. The notion that a permanent reign of terror exists there has been evolved entirely from their own morbid imaginations, fed by sensational propaganda from opponents of the party now in power. As a purely British organization, the Blackshirts will respect those principles of tolerance which are traditional in British politics. They have no prejudice either of class or race. Their recruits are drawn from all social grades and every political party. Young men may join the British Union of Fascists by writing to the Headquarters, King's Road, Chelsea, London, S.W." (10)

Lord Rothermere with Adolf Hitler
The Daily Mail (22nd January 1934)

The Daily Mail continued to give its support to the fascists. George Ward Price wrote about anti-fascist demonstrators at a meeting of the National Union of Fascists on 8th June, 1934: "If the Blackshirts movement had any need of justification, the Red Hooligans who savagely and systematically tried to wreck Sir Oswald Mosley's huge and magnificently successful meeting at Olympia last night would have supplied it. They got what they deserved. Olympia has been the scene of many assemblies and many great fights, but never had it offered the spectacle of so many fights mixed up with a meeting." (11)

David Low, a cartoonist employed by the Evening Standard, made several attacks on Rothermere's links to the fascist movement. In January 1934, he drew a cartoon showing Rothermere as a nanny giving a Nazi salute and saying "we need men of action such as they have in Italy and Germany who are leading their countries triumphantly out of the slump... blah... blah... blah... blah."

Lord Rothermere with Adolf Hitler
David Low, But what have they got in their other hands, nanny? (26th January 1934)

The child in the pram is saying "But what have they got in their other hands, nanny?" Hitler and Mussolini are hiding the true records of their periods in government. Hitler's card includes, "Hitler's Germany: Estimated Unemployed: 6,000,000. Fall in trade under Hitler (9 months) £35,000,000. Burden of taxes up several times over. Wages down 20%." (12)

In March 1939 the MI6 passport control officer at Victoria Station arrested Princess Stephanie's Hungarian lawyer, Erno Wittman. The arresting officer reported what he discovered that Wittman was carrying: "This was astonishing; it appeared to be copies of documents and letters which passed between Lord Rothermere, Lady Snowden, Princess Stephanie, Herr Hitler and others. In the main, the letters referred to the possible restoration of the throne in Hungary and shed a good deal of light on the character and activities of the princess."

It was decided to pass on this information to MI5. Amongst the documents were several letters from Lord Rothermere to Adolf Hitler. This included a "a very indiscreet letter to the Führer congratulating him on his walk into Prague". The letter urged Hitler to follow up his coup with the invasion of Romania. Lord Rothermere was now aware that MI5 had copies of his letters to Adolf Hitler. Fearing that he might be arrested for treason and decided to go and live in Bermuda where he died on 26th November 1940. (13)

The first edition of the Daily Mail was published on 4th May, 1896. Alfred Harmsworth and his younger brother, Harold Harmsworth, were the men behind the venture. The brothers had made their fortune from publishing children's comics and quiz magazines. It was the first newspaper in Britain that catered for a new reading public that needed something simpler, shorter and more readable than those that had previously been available. One new innovation was the banner headline that went right across the page. Considerable space was given to sport and human interest stories. It was also the first newspaper to include a woman's section that dealt with issues such as fashions and cookery. Most importantly, all its news stories and articles were short. The first day it sold 397,215 copies, more than had ever been sold by any newspaper in one day before. (14)

Harmsworth gained many of his ideas from America. He had been especially impressed by Joseph Pulitzer, the owner of the New York World. He also concentrated on human-interest stories, scandal and sensational material. However, Pulitzer also promised to use the paper to expose corruption: "We will always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty." (15)

In order to do this Pulitzer pioneered the idea of investigative reporting that eventually became known as muckraking. As Harold Evans, the author of The American Century: People, Power and Politics (1998) has pointed out: "Crooks in City Hall. Opium in children's cough syrup. Rats in the meat packing factory. Cruelty to child workers... Scandal followed scandal in the early 1900s as a new breed of writers investigated the evils of laissez-faire America... The muckrakers were the heart of Progressivism, that shifting coalition of sentiment striving to make the American dream come true in the machine age. Their articles, with facts borne out by subsequent commissions, were read passionately in new national mass-circulation magazines by millions of the fast-growing aspiring white-collar middle class." (16)

Alfred Harmsworth completely rejected this approach to journalism. "Looking back, what it (the Daily Mail) lacked most noticeably was a social conscience... Alfred had no desire to start looking for social evils, and no need. What he had to keep in mind were the tastes of a new public that was becoming better educated and more prosperous, that wanted its rosebushes and tobacco and silk corsets and tasty dishes, that liked to wave a flag for the Queen and see foreigners slip on a banana skin." (17)

One of his journalists, Tom Clarke, claimed that his newspaper was for people who were not as intelligent as they thought they were: "Was one of the secrets of the Daily Mail success its play on the snobbishness of all of us? - all of us except the very rich and the very poor, to whom snobbishness is not important; for the rich have nothing to gain by it, and the poor have nothing to lose." (18)

The Harmsworth brothers both held extreme right-wing views. As they explained in their first newspaper, Evening News, they were also great supporters of the British Empire, Harmsworth made it clear that his newspapers would "preach the gospel of loyalty to the Empire and faith in the combined efforts of the peoples united under the British flag". The declaration of principles continued that, in politics, his newspapers would be "strongly and unfalteringly" on the side of the Conservatives. (19)

Alfred Harmsworth made it clear to the leaders of the Conservative Party that the newspaper would provide loyal support against the movement towards social change. Arthur Balfour, the leader of the party in the House of Commons, sent a private letter to Harmsworth. "Though it is impossible for me, for obvious reasons, to appear among the list of those who publish congratulatory comments in the columns of the Daily Mail perhaps you will allow me privately to express my appreciation of your new undertaking. That, if it succeeds, it will greatly conduce to the wide dissemination of sound political principles, I feel assured; and I cannot doubt, that it will succeed, knowing the skill, the energy, the resource, with which it is conducted. You have taken the lead in the newspaper enterprise, and both you and the Party are to be heartily congratulated." (20)

In July 1896, Harmsworth asked a friend, Lady Bulkley, to write to Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquis of Salisbury, the new prime minister, suggesting that in return for supporting the Conservative Party, he should be rewarded with a baronetcy. The letter pointed out that as well as owning several pro-conservative newspapers he had recently established "the Daily Mail... at a cost of near £100,000". Salisbury refused but was willing to offer a knighthood instead. Harmsworth rejected the offer and commented that he was willing to wait for a baronetcy. (21)

Alfred Harmsworth was a passionate supporter of the British Empire and he is said to have idolised two men, Joseph Camberlain and Cecil Rhodes. He intended to use his newspaper and the rest of his publications to "strum the Imperial harp". According to Harry J. Greenwall, the author of Northcliffe: Napoleon of Fleet Street (1957) Harmsworth "with the Daily Mail unleashed a tremendous force of potential mass thought-control" as it became the "trumpet... of British Imperialism." (22)

Alfred Harmsworth became very concerned about the dangers posed by Germany. He sent his leading journalist, George W. Steevens, to report on the country: "The German army is the most perfectly adapted, perfectly running machine. Never can there have been a more signal triumph of organization over complexity... The German army is the finest thing thing of its kind in the world; it is the finest thing in Germany of any kind... In the German army the men are ready, and the planes, the railway-carriages, the gas for the war-balloons, and the nails for the horseshoes are all ready too... Nothing overlooked, nothing neglected, everything practised, everything welded together, and yet everything alive and fighting... And what should we ever do if 100,000 of this kind of army got loose in England?" (23)

Linley Sambourne, Fidgety Wilhelm (1st February, 1896)
Linley Sambourne, Fidgety Wilhelm (1st February, 1896)

Harmsworth became convinced that Britain would have to go to war with Germany and urged the government to increase its spending on defence: "This is our hour of preparation, tomorrow may be the day of world conflict... Germany will go slowly and surely; she is not in a hurry: her preparations are quietly and systematically made; it is no part of her object to cause general alarm which might be fatal to her designs." (24)

In an interview Harmsworth gave to a French newspaper he explained his views on Germany: "Yes, we detest the Germans, we detest them cordially and the make themselves detested by all of Europe. I will not permit the least thing that might injure France to appear in my paper, but I should not like for anything to appear in it that might be agreeable to Germany." (25)

In April 1905, Alfred Harmsworth, established Associated Newspapers Limited with a capital of £1,600,000, the shares of which swiftly sold out. His income for the year was £115,000. Apart from his newspaper business he had other stock worth £300,000. Despite his growing wealth he was still dissatisfied and craved titles and acceptance from the ruling class. (26)

On 23rd June, it was announced that Harmsworth had received a baronetcy. The Daily Telegraph reported that it was unusual for a man "to win so much success in so limited a time". (27) Those newspapers that supported the Liberal Party were less complimentary. The Daily Chronicle stated that "Mr. Harmsworth's is the name of the most general interest in a list that is more remarkable for quantity than quality". (28) The most bitter comment came from The Daily News, "having been conspicuously passed over for several years, Sir Alfred Harmsworth has arrived at his baronetcy... for all he did during the Boer War." (29)

Arthur Balfour resigned as prime minister on 4th December 1905 and was replaced by Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the leader of the Liberal Party. Before he went he asked Edward VII if he would give Alfred Harmsworth a peerage. The Chief Whip, Alexander Acland-Hood, believed that if this did not happen, Harmsworth would change his support to the Liberals: "If he doesn't get it now he will get it when Cambell-Bannerman makes his Peers on taking office - we should then lose all his money and influence - I very much dislike the business, but as we can't stop it in the future why make so handsome a present to the other side!" (30)

Alfred Harmsworth took the title, Lord Northcliffe. Balfour told him that he was "the youngest peer" in British history. It was a very controversial decision and many considered it an act of corruption. A few years earlier Harmsworth had commented that "when I want a peerage I will pay for it" and that is what a lot of people thought had happened. Herbert Stern, a banker, was also accused of buying the title, Lord Michelham. (31)

The Saturday Review published a long article on Balfour's resignation list. Is it true or false that the peerages of Michelham and Northcliffe were sold for so much cash down? And did the cash go into the war-chest of the Conservative party? That these peerages were conferred for a sincere belief in the public merits of the recipients or from any other mercenary considerations is plainly incredible... Beginning the world with nothing he (Northcliffe) has made a very large fortune by the production of certain newspapers. No man makes a pile without the possession of certain qualities, which are obviously rare, but which do not in our opinion necessarily entitle their possessors to a seat in the House of Lords... We say advisedly that he has done more than any man of his generation to pervert and enfeeble the mind of the multitude." (32)

The Daily Mail fully supported the Conservative Party in the build-up to the 1906 General Election. During the campaign members of the Women Social & Political Union attempted to disrupt political meetings. On 10th January, 1906, The Daily Mail described these women as "suffragettes". It was meant as an insult but Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the organisation, liked the term and defiantly accepted the label. Lord Northcliffe, was totally opposed to women having the vote and ordered his editors to ignore their activities. (33)

Dreadnoughts or Old Age Pensions

In the 1906 General Election the Liberal Party won 397 seats (48.9%) compared to the Conservative Party's 156 seats (43.4%). The Labour Party, led by Keir Hardie did well, increasing their seats from 2 to 29. In the landslide victory Arthur Balfour lost his seat as did most of his cabinet ministers. Margot Asquith wrote: "When the final figures of the Elections were published everyone was stunned, and it certainly looks as if it were the end of the great Tory Party as we have known it." (34)

Balfour considered the growth in the vote for Labour a significant factor in the result."I am quite confident that there are much deeper causes at work than those with which, for the last 20 years, we have been familiar. I regard the enormous increase in the Labour vote (an increase which cannot be measured merely by the number returned of Labour members so-called) as a reflection in this country - faint I hope - of what is going on the Continent; and, if so, 1906 will be remarkable for something much more important than the fall of a Government which has been ten years in office." (35)

Lord Northcliffe had two major objectives. One was to campaign against the Liberal Party's social reform programme. The other was to convince the British public than Germany posed a threat to the British Empire. One of the innovations introduced by the Daily Mail was the publication of serials. Personally supervised by Northcliffe, the average length was 100,000 words. The opening episode was 5,000 words and had to have a dramatic impact on the readers. This was followed by episodes of 1,500 to 2,000 words every day. On 19th March 1906, the newspaper published the first installment of The Invasion of 1910, in which the novelist William Le Queux, detailed a German invasion of Britain.

This was all part of Lord Northcliffe's campaign to build up Britain's defences against Germany. He was a great supporter of the need to build up the British Navy to protect the country from a German invasion. Britain's first dreadnought was built at Portsmouth Dockyard between October 1905 and December 1906. It was the most heavily-armed ship in history. She had ten 12-inch guns (305 mm), whereas the previous record was four 12-inch guns. The gun turrets were situated higher than user and so facilitated more accurate long-distance fire. In addition to her 12-inch guns, the ship also had twenty-four 3-inch guns (76 mm) and five torpedo tubes below water. In the waterline section of her hull, the ship was armoured by plates 28 cm thick. It was the first major warship driven solely by steam turbines. It was also faster than any other warship and could reach speeds of 21 knots. A total of 526 feet long (160.1 metres) it had a crew of over 800 men. It cost over £2 million, twice as much as the cost of a conventional battleship.

HMS Dreadnought (1906)
HMS Dreadnought (1906)

Germany built its first dreadnought in 1907 and plans were made for building more. The British government believed it was necessary to have twice the number of these warships than any other navy. David Lloyd George had a meeting with the German Ambassador, Count Paul Metternich, and told him that Britain was willing to spend £100 million to frustrate Germany's plans to achieve naval supremacy. That night he made a speech where he spoke out on the arms race: "My principle is, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, less money for the production of suffering, more money for the reduction of suffering." (36)

Lord Northcliffe, used his newspapers to urge an increase in defence spending and a reduction in the amount of money being spent on social insurance schemes. In one letter to Lloyd George he suggested that the Liberal government was Pro-German. Lloyd George replied: "The only real pro-German whom I know of on the Liberal side of politics is Rosebery, and I sometimes wonder whether he is even a Liberal at all! Haldane, of course, from education and intellectual bent, is in sympathy with German ideas, but there is really nothing else on which to base a suspicion that we are inclined to a pro-German policy at the expense of the entente with France." (37)

Northcliffe's propaganda campaign was helped by the purchase of The Times newspaper on 16th March 1908 for £320,000, following a complex financial and political campaign in which he outmanoeuvred his rival, C. Arthur Pearson. He always claimed that he allowed the paper its full independence but he made sure that the senior staff agreed with him on the current political issues, especially, military spending. (38)

David Lloyd George was the leading radical in the Liberal government. in one speech had warned that if the government did not pass progressive measures, at the next election, the working-class would vote for the Labour Party: "If at the end of our term of office it were found that the present Parliament had done nothing to cope seriously with the social condition of the people, to remove the national degradation of slums and widespread poverty and destitution in a land glittering with wealth, if they do not provide an honourable sustenance for deserving old age, if they tamely allow the House of Lords to extract all virtue out of their bills, so that when the Liberal statute book is produced it is simply a bundle of sapless legislative faggots fit only for the fire - then a new cry will arise for a land with a new party, and many of us will join in that cry." (39)

Lloyd George had been a long opponent of the Poor Law in Britain. He was determined to take action that in his words would "lift the shadow of the workhouse from the homes of the poor". He believed the best way of doing this was to guarantee an income to people who were to old to work. Based on the ideas of Tom Paine that first appeared in his book Rights of Man, Lloyd George's proposed the introduction of old age pensions.

In a speech on 15th June 1908, he pointed out: "You have never had a scheme of this kind tried in a great country like ours, with its thronging millions, with its rooted complexities... This is, therefore, a great experiment... We do not say that it deals with all the problem of unmerited destitution in this country. We do not even contend that it deals with the worst part of that problem. It might be held that many an old man dependent on the charity of the parish was better off than many a young man, broken down in health, or who cannot find a market for his labour." (40)

To pay for these pensions Lloyd George had to raise government revenues by an additional £16 million a year. In 1909 Lloyd George announced what became known as the People's Budget. This included increases in taxation. Whereas people on lower incomes were to pay 9d. in the pound, those on annual incomes of over £3,000 had to pay 1s. 2d. in the pound. Lloyd George also introduced a new super-tax of 6d. in the pound for those earning £5,000 a year. Other measures included an increase in death duties on the estates of the rich and heavy taxes on profits gained from the ownership and sale of property. Other innovations in Lloyd George's budget included labour exchanges and a children's allowance on income tax. (41)

Lord Northcliffe disliked the idea of paying higher taxes in order to help provide old age pensions and used all of his newspapers to criticize the measures in the budget. The Daily News launched an attack on the wealthy men opposed to the budget: "It is they who own the newspapers, and when we remember that The Times, The Daily Mail, and The Observer, not to mention a host of minor organs in London and the provinces, are all controlled by one man, it is easy to realise how vast a political power capital exerts by this means alone." (42)

One of David Lloyd George's main supporters was Winston Churchill, who spoke at a large number of public meetings on this issue. Robert Lloyd George, the author of David & Winston: How a Friendship Changed History (2005) has suggested that their main motive was to prevent socialism in Britain: "Churchill and Lloyd George intuitively saw the real danger of socialism in the global situation of that time, when economic classes were so divided. In other European countries, revolution would indeed sweep away monarchs and landlords within the next ten years. But thanks to the reforming programme of the pre-war Liberal government, Britain evolved peacefully towards a more egalitarian society. It is arguable that the peaceful revolution of the People's Budget prevented a much more bloody revolution." (43)

The Conservatives, who had a large majority in the House of Lords, objected to this attempt to redistribute wealth, and made it clear that they intended to block these proposals. Lloyd George reacted by touring the country making speeches in working-class areas on behalf of the budget and portraying the nobility as men who were using their privileged position to stop the poor from receiving their old age pensions. The historian, George Dangerfield, has argued that Lloyd George had created a budget that would destroy the House of Lords if they tried to block the legislation: "It was like a kid, which sportsmen tie up to a tree in order to persuade a tiger to its death." (44)

Drawing of Charles Bradlaugh beingevicted from the House of Commons in 1880
Linley Sambourne, The Philanthropic Highwayman (1909)

On 30th November, 1909, the Peers rejected the Finance Bill by 350 votes to 75. H. H. Asquith had no option but to call a general election. In January 1910, the Liberals lost votes and was forced to rely on the support of the 42 Labour Party MPs to govern. John Grigg, the author of The People's Champion (1978) argues that the reason why the "people failed to give a sweeping, massive endorsement to the People's Budget" was that the electorate in 1910 was "by no means representative of the whole British nation". He points out that "only 58 per cent of adult males had the vote, and it is a fair assumption that the remaining 42 per cent would, if enfranchised, have voted in very large numbers for Liberal or Labour candidates. In what was still a disproportionately middle-class electorate the fear of Socialism was strong, and many voters were susceptible to the argument that the Budget was a first installment of Socialism." (45)

The historian, Duncan Tanner, believes that Lord Northcliffe played an important role in the election. Although the the Liberal Party had the support of two popular national newspapers, the Daily News and the Daily Chronicle, they found it difficult to compete with the influence of Northcliffe's Daily Mail. Tanner has pointed out: "They were enthusiastically progressive. They sensationally exposed poverty, making 'political' comparisons between the 'immoral' and 'extreme' wealth of Tory plutocrats and the landlords on the one hand, and the acute and total distress of the poor on the other. Yet between them they had less than three-quarters of a million readers in 1910 (less than the Tory Daily Mail alone)." (46)

David Lloyd George became convinced that Britain needed a health insurance scheme similar to one introduced in Germany in the 1880s. Lloyd George presented his national insurance proposal to the Cabinet at the beginning of April, 1911. "Insurance was to be made compulsory for all regularly employed workers over the age of sixteen and with incomes below the level - £160 a year - of liability for income tax; also for all manual labourers, whatever their income. The rates of contribution would be 4d. a week from a man, and 3d. a week from a woman; 3d. a week from his or her employer; and 2d. a week from the State." (47)

Lord Northcliffe, launched a propaganda campaign against the bill on the grounds that the scheme would be too expensive for small employers. The climax of the campaign was a rally in the Albert Hall on 29th November, 1911. As Lord Northcliffe, controlled 40 per cent of the morning newspaper circulation in Britain, 45 per cent of the evening and 15 per cent of the Sunday circulation, his views on the subject was very important.

H. H. Asquith was very concerned about the impact of the The Daily Mail involvement in this issue: "The Daily Mail has been engineering a particularly unscrupulous campaign on behalf of mistresses and maids and one hears from all constituencies of defections from our party of the small class of employers. There can be no doubt that the Insurance Bill is (to say the least) not an electioneering asset." (48)

Frank Owen, the author of Tempestuous Journey: Lloyd George and his Life and Times (1954) suggested that it was those who employed servants who were the most hostile to the legislation: "Their tempers were inflamed afresh each morning by Northcliffe's Daily Mail, which alleged that inspectors would invade their drawing-rooms to check if servants' cards were stamped, while it warned the servants that their mistresses would sack them the moment they became liable for sickness benefit." (49)

The National Insurance Bill spent 29 days in committee and grew in length and complexity from 87 to 115 clauses. These amendments were the result of pressure from insurance companies, Friendly Societies, the medical profession and the trade unions, which insisted on becoming "approved" administers of the scheme. The bill was passed by the House of Commons on 6th December and received royal assent on 16th December 1911. (50)

Bernard Partridge, The Coming Olympic Struggle (3rd July 1912)
Bernard Partridge, The Coming Olympic Struggle (3rd July 1912)

The Daily Mail and The Times, both owned by Lord Northcliffe, continued its campaign against the National Insurance Act and urged its readers who were employers not to pay their national health contributions. David Lloyd George asked: "Were there now to be two classes of citizens in the land - one class which could obey the laws if they liked; the other, which must obey whether they liked it or not? Some people seemed to think that the Law was an institution devised for the protection of their property, their lives, their privileges and their sport it was purely a weapon to keep the working classes in order. This Law was to be enforced. But a Law to ensure people against poverty and misery and the breaking-up of home through sickness or unemployment was to be optional." (51)

Lloyd George attacked the newspaper baron for encouraging people to break the law and compared the issue to the foot-and-mouth plague rampant in the countryside at the time: "Defiance of the law is like the cattle plague. It is very difficult to isolate it and confine it to the farm where it has broken out. Although this defiance of the Insurance Act has broken out first among the Harmsworth herd, it has travelled to the office of The Times. Why? Because they belong to the same cattle farm. The Times, I want you to remember, is just a twopenny-halfpenny edition of The Daily Mail." (52)

One of his journalists, Tom Clarke, pointed out that Lord Northcliffe dictated the political stance of his newspaper: "He (Northcliffe) was sometimes violent in both speech and action (once in his office he took a flying kick at the seat of the pants of a man who had annoyed him; and on another occasion put his foot through a man's hat in his temper). He seldom sought advice, and treated it so roughly if he did not like it, that people hesitated to give it him. When he spoke, everybody else listened, usually without challenge. He suffered from little opposition." (53)

Lord Northcliffe used his newspapers to oppose women having the vote. He ordered his newspapers to ignore the subject as he believed any publicity only helped their cause. On a visit to Canada and the United States he proudly pointed out that newspapers in those countries had more information on the activities of the National Union of Suffrage Societies and the Women Social & Political Union than the ones controlled by him. (54)

However, he thought it wise not to give his opinions in public as he feared it would lose him readers: "My view of the position of newspaper owners is that they should be read and not seen. The less they appear in person the better for the influence of their newspapers. That is why I never appear on public platforms. As to the woman's suffrage business, I am one of those people who believe the whole thing to be a bubble, blown by a few wealthy women who employ their less prosperous sisters to do the work. I judge public interest in the matter by the correspondence received. We never get any letters apart from those from the stage army of suffragettes." (55)

Lord Northcliffe was also extremely hostile to trade unions. One of his journalists remembered how he behaved during a strike organised by the National Union of Mineworkers: "During this coal strike the orders came thick and fast. Whatever he might do through The Times in the way of influencing public opinion, he could do far more through the Mail, with its millions... He thought mob rule might be coming, so the mob must be divided; the public must be shown how the miners were enjoying themselves at the seaside or dog races while helpless workers in other industries suffered from the creeping paralysis." (56)

Lord Northcliffe and Germany

Lord Northcliffe had consistently described Germany as Britain's "secret and insidious enemy", and he commissioned Robert Blatchford, to visit Germany and then write a series of articles setting out the dangers. The German's, Blatchford wrote, were making "gigantic preparations" to destroy the British Empire and "to force German dictatorship upon the whole of Europe". He complained that Britain was not prepared for was and argued that the country was facing the possibility of an "Armageddon". (57)

He continued to demand that the government to spend more money on building up the British Navy. In this he gained the support of Reginald McKenna, the First Lord of the Admiralty, David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was totally opposed to this policy. He reminded H. H. Asquith of "the emphatic pledges given by us before and during the general election campaign to reduce the gigantic expenditure on armaments built up by our predecessors... but if Tory extravagance on armaments is seen to be exceeded, Liberals... will hardly think it worth their while to make any effort to keep in office a Liberal ministry... the Admiralty's proposals were a poor compromise between two scares - fear of the German navy abroad and fear of the Radical majority at home... You alone can save us from the prospect of squalid and sterile destruction." (58)

Lord Northcliffe was highly critical of a Liberal government who were more willing to spend more money on the emerging welfare state than on defence spending. In the 1910 General Election he accused the government of "surrendering to socialism" and that it was the patriotic duty of the British people to vote for the Conservative Party as Germany wanted a Liberal victory in the election. (59)

The Daily Mail campaigned for the introduction of military conscription to deal with the threat of Germany. It argued that "in recent years" no other subject "has attracted more attention, has aroused more discussion, or been followed by our readers with closer interest". It also published a pamphlet that dealt with this issue. Within a few weeks it sold over 1,600,000 copies. The Manchester Guardian accused the newspaper of "deliberately raking the fires of hell for votes". (60)

Lord Northcliffe's newspapers continued to attack the Liberal government over its policies of progressive taxation, its apparently willingness to grant Irish Home Rule and the low-level of its defence spending. Northcliffe asked for a meeting with the prime minister. Asquith wrote to his confidante Venetia Stanley about the request: "He (Northcliffe) is anxious that I should see him. I hate and distrust the fellow and all his works... so I merely said that if he chose to ask me directly to see him, and he had anything really new to communicate, I would not refuse. I know of few men in this world who are responsible for more mischief, and deserve a longer punishment in the next." (61)

The First World War

On the outbreak of the First World War the editor of The Star newspaper claimed that: "Next to the Kaiser, Lord Northcliffe has done more than any living man to bring about the war." Once the war had started Northcliffe used his newspaper empire to promote anti-German hysteria. It was The Daily Mail that first used the term "Huns" to describe the Germans and "thus at a stroke was created the image of a terrifying, ape-like savage that threatened to rape and plunder all of Europe, and beyond." (62)

As Philip Knightley, the author of The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth Maker (1982) has pointed out: "The war was made to appear one of defence against a menacing aggressor. The Kaiser was painted as a beast in human form... The Germans were portrayed as only slightly better than the hordes of Genghis Khan, rapers of nuns, mutilators of children, and destroyers of civilisation." (63) In one report the newspaper referred to Kaiser Wilhelm II as a "lunatic," a "barbarian," a "madman," a "monster," a "modern judas," and a "criminal monarch". (64)

Lord Northcliffe's main concern was a German invasion and was opposed to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) being sent to France. On 5th August, 1914, he warned Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, against any plan to dispatch the BEF. He told the editor of The Daily Mail: "I will not support the sending out of this country of a single British soldier. What about invasion? What about our own country? Put that in the leader... Say so in the paper tomorrow." (65)

However, Churchill ignored Northcliffe and it was decided that the 120,000 soldiers in the BEF should be sent to Maubeuge in France. "They (the Army Council) agreed that the fourteen Territorial divisions could protect the country from invasion. The BEF was free to go abroad. Where to? There could be no question of helping the Belgians, through this was why Great Britain had gone to war. The BEF had no choice: it must go to Maubeuge on the French left." (66)

Over the last few months Lord Northcliffe's newspapers campaigned for Lord Kitchener to become Secretary of State for War. It claimed that this post might go to Richard Haldane, a man who Northcliffe believed was pro-German, who had been responsible for delaying war preparations. (67) However, Asquith eventually took Northcliffe's advice and gave Kitchener the post. According to George Arthur, Kitchener's biographer, became Secretary of War because of "the persistence of Lord Northcliffe". (68)

Lord Northcliffe believed that the intertwined national economies of 1914 could not stand more than a few months of conflict. Military experts agreed and predicted that the war would involve battles of movement, fought by professional armies which would be home by Christmas. Northcliffe expected the "British Navy would win the war for Britain by defeating the enemy fleet and blockading Germany". (69)

Kitchener disagreed with Northcliffe on this issue: A.J.P. Taylor has pointed out: "He (Lord Kitchener) startled his colleagues at the first cabinet meeting which he attended by announcing that the war would last three years, not three months, and that Great Britain would have to put an army of millions into the field. Regarding the Territorial Army with undeserved contempt, he proposed to raise a New Army of seventy divisions and, when Asquith ruled out compulsion as politically impossible, agreed to do so by voluntary recruiting." (70)

On 7th August, 1914, the House of Commons was told that Britain needed an army of 500,000 men. The same day Lord Kitchener issued his first appeal for 100,000 volunteers. He got an immediate response with 175,000 men volunteering in a single week. With the help of a war poster that featured Kitchener and the words: "Join Your Country's Army", 750,000 had enlisted by the end of September.

According to his biographer, Keith Neilson: "Kitchener brought to his new office both strengths and weaknesses. He had waged two wars in which he had dealt with all aspects of warfare, including both command and logistics. He was used to being in charge of large enterprises, he was not afraid to take responsibility and make decisions, and he enjoyed public confidence. However, he had no experience of modern European war, almost no knowledge of the British army at home, and a limited understanding of the War Office. Perhaps most importantly, he had no experience of working in a cabinet. Nevertheless in the opening stage of the war he, Asquith, and Churchill formed a dominant triumvirate in the cabinet." (71)

Lord Northcliffe eventually came into conflict with Lord Kitchener over the issue of shell production and decided he needed to be removed from office. In an article he wrote on 21st May, 1915, Northcliffe wrote a blistering attack on the Secretary of State for War: "Lord Kitchener has starved the army in France of high-explosive shells. The admitted fact is that Lord Kitchener ordered the wrong kind of shell - the same kind of shell which he used largely against the Boers in 1900. He persisted in sending shrapnel - a useless weapon in trench warfare. He was warned repeatedly that the kind of shell required was a violently explosive bomb which would dynamite its way through the German trenches and entanglements and enable our brave men to advance in safety. This kind of shell our poor soldiers have had has caused the death of thousands of them." (72)

Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Repington, the chief war correspondent of The Times, was a close friend of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, Sir John French, and was invited to visit the Western Front. Repington now had growing influence over military policy and one politician described him as "the twenty-third member of the Cabinet". During the offensive at Artois, Repington was shown confidential information about the British Army being short of artillery shells. (73)

On 14th May, 1915, the newspaper published the contents of a telegram sent by Repington: "The attacks (on Sunday last in the districts of Fromelles and Richebourg) were well planned and valiantly conducted. The infantry did splendidly, but the conditions were too hard. The want of an unlimited supply of high explosives was a fatal bar to our success at Festubert." (74)

The Daily Mail now launched an attack on Lord Kitchener and under the heading "British Still Struggling: Send More Shells" it argued that the newspaper was in a very difficult position for if it published "the truth about the defects of our military preparations". It claimed that under the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) the newspaper could be accused of aiding the enemy; and if it didn't, it was not fulfilling its responsibility to keep the public informed of the situation. (75)

Lord Northcliffe decided to make a direct on Lord Kitchener for not supplying enough high-explosive shells. In an article he published on 21st May, 1915, Northcliffe wrote a blistering attack on the Secretary of State for War: "Lord Kitchener has starved the army in France of high-explosive shells. The admitted fact is that Lord Kitchener ordered the wrong kind of shell - the same kind of shell which he used largely against the Boers in 1900. He persisted in sending shrapnel - a useless weapon in trench warfare. He was warned repeatedly that the kind of shell required was a violently explosive bomb which would dynamite its way through the German trenches and entanglements and enable our brave men to advance in safety. This kind of shell our poor soldiers have had has caused the death of thousands of them." (76)

The following day The Daily Mail continued the attack. The paper stated that "our men at the Front have been supplied with the wrong kind of shell and the result has been a heavy and avoidable loss of life". A shortage of shells at the beginning of the conflict was understandable and excusable, but the inability of officials to supply adequate munitions after ten months for Britain's fighting men was "proof of grave negligence". (77)

Lord Kitchener was a national hero and Northcliffe's attack on him upset a great number of readers. Overnight, the circulation of The Daily Mail dropped from 1,386,000 to 238,000. A placard was hung across The Daily Mail nameplate with the words "The Allies of the Huns". Over 1,500 members of the Stock Exchange had a meeting where they passed a motion against the "venomous attacks of the Harmsworth Press" and afterwards ceremoniously burnt copies of the offending newspaper. (78)


(1) The Daily Mail (7th June, 2017)

(2) The Daily Mail (25th October 1924)

(3) Gill Bennett, Churchill's Man of Mystery: Desmond Morton and the World of Intelligence (2006) page 82

(4) Ramsay MacDonald, statement (25th October 1924)

(5) A. J. P. Taylor, Beaverbrook (1972) page 223

(6) Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) page 150

(7) S. J. Taylor, The Great Outsiders: Northcliffe, Rothermere and the Daily Mail (1996) page 143

(8) Lord Rothermere, The Daily Mail (10th July, 1933)

(9) Adolf Hitler, letter to Lord Rothermere (December, 1933)

(10) Lord Rothermere, The Daily Mail ( 22nd January, 1934)

(11) George Ward Price, The Daily Mail (8th June, 1934)

(12) David Low, Evening Standard (26th January 1934)

(13) The Daily Telegraph (1st March, 2005)

(14) Francis Williams, Dangerous Estate: The Anatomy of Newspapers (1957) page 140

(15) Joseph Pulitzer, New York World (May, 1883)

(16) Harold Evans, The American Century: People, Power and Politics (1998) page 94

(17) Paul Ferris, The House of Northcliffe: The Harmsworths of Fleet Street (1971) page 20

(18) Tom Clarke, diary entry (1st January, 1912)

(19) Alfred Harmsworth, The Evening News (31st August, 1894)

(20) Arthur Balfour, letter to Alfred Harmsworth (7th May, 1896)

(21) J. Lee Thompson, Northcliffe: Press Baron in Politics 1865-1922 (2000) page 337

(22) Harry J. Greenwall, Northcliffe: Napoleon of Fleet Street (1957) pages 56-57

(23) George W. Steevens, The Daily Mail (8th October, 1897)

(24) S. J. Taylor, The Great Outsiders: Northcliffe, Rothermere and the Daily Mail (1996) page 141

(25) Orlon James Hale, Germany and the Diplomatic Revolution (1931) page 17

(26) J. Lee Thompson, Northcliffe: Press Baron in Politics 1865-1922 (2000) page 120

(27) The Daily Telegraph (23rd June, 1905)

(28) The Daily Chronicle (23rd June, 1905)

(29) The Daily News (23rd June, 1905)

(30) Alexander Acland-Hood, letter to Arthur Balfour (5th December, 1905)

(31) Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1953) page 295

(32) The Saturday Review (16th December, 1905)

(33) J. Lee Thompson, Northcliffe: Press Baron in Politics 1865-1922 (2000) page 131

(34) Margot Asquith, The Autobiography of Margot Asquith (1962) page 245

(35) Arthur Balfour, letter to Alfred Harmsworth (17th January, 1906)

(36) The Times (29th July, 1908)

(37) David Lloyd George, letter to Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe (9th April, 1908)

(38) David George Boyce, Harold Harmsworth, Lord Rothermere : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(39) David Lloyd George, speech at Penrhyndeudraeth (25th September, 1906)

(40) David Lloyd George, speech in the House of Commons (15th June 1908)

(41) Hugh Purcell, Lloyd George (2006) page 28

(42) The Daily News (3rd May, 1909)

(43) Robert Lloyd George, David & Winston: How a Friendship Changed History (2005) page 56

(44) George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England (1935) page 20

(45) John Grigg, The People's Champion (1978) pages 240-241

(46) Duncan Tanner, Political Change and the Labour Party: 1900-1918 (1990) page 65

(47) John Grigg, The People's Champion (1978) page 325

(48) Bentley B. Gilbert, David Lloyd George: Architect of Change (1987) page 445

(49) Frank Owen, Tempestuous Journey: Lloyd George and his Life and Times (1954) page 208

(50) Roy Hattersley, David Lloyd George (2010) page 299

(51) Frank Owen, Tempestuous Journey: Lloyd George and his Life and Times (1954) page 209

(52) David Lloyd George, speech at Kennington (13th July, 1912)

(53) Tom Clarke, My Northcliffe Diary (1931) pages 18 and 19

(54) Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, letter to Kennedy Jones (27th September, 1909)

(55) Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, letter to Lord George Curzon (February, 1912)

(56) Tom Clarke, My Northcliffe Diary (1931) page 51

(57) S. J. Taylor, The Great Outsiders: Northcliffe, Rothermere and the Daily Mail (1996) page 141

(58) Roy Hattersley, David Lloyd George (2010) page 245

(59) The Daily Mail (8th December, 1909)

(60) Neal Blewett, The Peers, the Parties and the People (1972) page 127

(61) H. H. Asquith, letter to Venetia Stanley (10th July, 1914)

(62) S. J. Taylor, The Great Outsiders: Northcliffe, Rothermere and the Daily Mail (1996) page 143

(63) Philip Knightley, The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth Maker (1982) page 66

(64) The Daily Mail (22nd September, 1914)

(65) Tom Clarke, diary entry (5th August, 1914)

(66) A. J. P. Taylor, English History: 1914-1945 (1965) page 32

(67) The Daily Mail (5th August, 1914)

(68) George Arthur, Life of Lord Kitchener: Volume III (1920) page 3

(69) J. Lee Thompson, Northcliffe: Press Baron in Politics 1865-1922 (2000) page 224

(70) A. J. P. Taylor, English History: 1914-1945 (1965) page 47

(71) Keith Neilson, Lord Kitchener : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(72) Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, Daily Mail (21st May, 1915)

(73) S. J. Taylor, The Great Outsiders: Northcliffe, Rothermere and the Daily Mail (1996) page 157

(74) Charles Repington, The Times (14th May, 1915)

(75) The Daily Mail (15th May, 1915)

(76) Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, Daily Mail (21st May, 1915)

(77) The Daily Mail (22nd May, 1915)

(78) J. Lee Thompson, Northcliffe: Press Baron in Politics 1865-1922 (2000) page 241

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