The Daily Mirror – what do those words evoke? For me, they contain mixed messages. Ours was a Daily Mirror household during my childhood; although my parents were classic ‘Floating Voters’, the fact that our paper of choice (back when such a thing could define one’s political stance) was staunchly Labour suggests a lean towards Harold Wilson rather than Ted Heath, and the Mirror served as my introduction to Fleet Street. From a child’s perspective, the paper’s comic strips linger long in my memory, not only family comedy The Larks, as well as Bill Tidy’s The Fosdyke Saga and the perennial folk hero Andy Capp, but also Garth. When I was nine/ten, I became obsessed with Garth, the muscular hero whose adventures encompassed Bond-like espionage fantasy and sci-fi as well as a generous amount of exposed female flesh. For a few months, I used to cut out said strip and stick each instalment in a scrap-book. Garth’s 70s artists Frank Bellamy and then Martin Asbury were two of the finest British draughtsmen during the era before graphic novels and perhaps it was their brushwork as much as the plentiful supply of mammaries that caught my eye.
The Daily Mirror was Britain’s best-selling tabloid in the 50s and 60s, managing to blend populist fluff with hard news and pioneering campaigns to great effect; the populist fluff paid for the pioneering campaigns, and it was a successful blend until the challenge of Murdoch’s Sun gradually won over readers as the 70s morphed into the 80s. When Robert Maxwell purchased the Mirror in the mid-80s, the real rot set in and I don’t believe the paper ever truly recovered from his intervention.
Around a decade ago, I recall an exposure on Kate Moss’s cocaine habits set me against the Mirror. Moss was my heroine in the 90s, that decade’s Twiggy and an inspiration to ugly ducklings everywhere. That the Mirror chose to eavesdrop upon her private life and vilify her as a witch angered me so much that I printed her ‘Vogue’ front-cover wherein she replicated the sleeve of ‘Aladdin Sane’ on a blank T-shirt as a quaint gesture of support and swore I’d never buy the paper again. It seemed important at the time.
During Hack-Gate, the Mirror Group newspapers initially adopted a ‘Holier-than-thou’ attitude, though the Leveson Inquiry gradually revealed the Mirror Group were just as culpable as News International. Despite such prominent exposure of widespread corruption in journalistic practices, little has changed. Scandal and the moralistic high-ground remain the bread & butter of the tabloid press, even more so now that their very existence hangs in the balance; and the latest victim of the Mirror’s policy is an MP who can certainly be classified as an easy target if his past record is anything to go by.
Keith Vaz – ah, what can one say about Keith Vaz that hasn’t already been said? Plenty, it would seem, if the Daily Mirror is anything to go by.
His political career had been dogged by controversies even before this weekend, beginning way back in 1989 when he supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Finding himself in government following the Labour landslide of 1997, Vaz was a year into his post as Minister for Europe when he was accused of not declaring to Parliament the gift of several thousand pounds from a solicitor; this was followed by the more publicised Hinduja Affair, when he and Peter Mandelson were accused of ‘fast-tracking’ a British passport for a couple of Indian businessmen brothers; he lost his Ministerial post as a consequence, but was then suspended from the Commons after it was insinuated that he sought to ruin the career of Eileen Eggington, a former policewoman, by making false allegations of harassment against her.
Hot on the heels of that one was the revelation that Vaz had intervened in the French Government’s attempts to extradite Anglo-Iraqi billionaire Nadhmi Auchi, swiftly followed by another failure to declare an interest in the case of a solicitor friend who had represented the Metropolitan Police Force in several race-related cases.
Since 2007, Vaz has sought to resurrect his tarnished career via his role as Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and to be fair, he has played his part in bringing numerous wrong ‘uns to task. However, one always felt the amount of enemies Vaz had made were bound to catch up with him eventually, and the elaborate sting operation conducted by the Mirror Group appears to confirm this. He was evidently ‘due’.
Accused of paying rent-boys for favours, Vaz has been forced to step down from his prestigious post, encouraged to do so publicly by none other than former Culture Secretary John ‘Whiplash’ Whittingdale amongst others. Hmmm – pot/kettle/black, eh? The additional spurious ‘Paedo’ element also acts as a red rag to Twitter bulls, lest we forget.
As oily, slippery and dodgy as Keith Vaz undoubtedly is, the current allegations against him stink of a concerted attempt to bring his chequered career to an undignified end using the lowliest possible means. And however unlikeable a personality he may be, does that justify the desperate tactics of a discredited newspaper to act as judge, jury and executioner? I think not.
RICHARD NEVILLE (1941-2016)
The death of Richard Neville at the age of 74 is another door quietly closing on the lifespan of the baby-boomers. The Australian journalist and spokesman for the 60s generation remains defined by his stint as joint editor of counter-cultural magazine ‘Oz’, the ‘Private Eye’ of London’s hippie underground that reached its apex of notoriety in 1971 when he and his co-conspirators Felix Dennis and James Anderson were embroiled in Britain’s longest-running obscenity trial. The trial at the Old Bailey was viewed as a high watermark of the 60s generational clash, a key battle between the let-it-all-hang-out youngsters and the patrician parents that had given birth to children that left them bemused and bewildered.
‘Oz’ was less politically-driven than some of its contemporaries, possessing a puerile sense of the absurd that reflected its roots as a college rag back in Neville’s native Australia. As the likes of Germaine Greer and Clive James had before him, Neville realised Swinging London was more conducive to his radical outlook than his conservative homeland and he arrived in the right place at the right time, developing a British equivalent of the original magazine that was stooped in the psychedelic rhetoric of the era, producing a periodical that was both graphically and journalistically challenging.
It was the 1970 edition inviting schoolchildren to paint a realistic portrayal of the educational system that landed him and his two fellow editors in hot water, peppering its accounts of paedophilic teachers and systematic ritual humiliation with contentious images of scantily-clad pre-pubescent kids and a doctored cartoon strip of a sexually-active Rupert the Bear with a huge penis.
Many of the issues that ‘Oz’ promoted, such as sexual and racial equality as well as ecological awareness, are now standard policies for mainstream political parties, showing that Neville was as much a man ahead of his time as he was of it; that he never really escaped the long shadow cast by his youthful role can be seen either as a tribute to the impact he made or an admission of failure in that even the most beyond-the-pale viewpoints become the general establishment perspective in the end.
© The Editor