street of shame

Mail Privilege
Lord Ashcroft, Issue 1575

lord-ashcroft.jpg READERS of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday may have noticed a freelance contributor – billed as "an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster" – whose byline has appeared in recent years on dozens of comment pieces, features about favourite charities, investigations, political book serialisations and opinion-poll analyses.

The most notorious Daily Mail article by former Tory treasurer Lord Ashcroft (for it is he) was a 2015 book serialisation claiming that David Cameron once had sex with a pig's head. This porky pie appeared under the editorship of Paul Dacre, but after his replacement by Geordie Greig in 2018 the Ashcroft byline was mostly limited to the Mail on Sunday, edited by Dacre's protégé Ted Verity.

A 1,400-word why-oh-why
However, since Verity replaced Greig last November as editor of the daily (while remaining de facto editor of the MoS), Ashcroft has again been popping up in both titles, sometimes weekly. Over the weekend of 4/5 June, the two papers jointly ran more than 4,000 words on the Falklands War by the prolific peer, this time describing him as "military historian Lord Ashcroft". On 24 May he had a 1,400-word why-oh-why in the Daily Mail on "trophy hunting" in Africa. Earlier last month he gave MoS readers "Three reasons why Boris Johnson can survive the public's anger at Partygate".

Ashcroft's remarkable access to the papers is the subject of mutterings among Mail staff, who suspect some kind of "special relationship" between him and editor-in-chief Dacre. Ashcroft certainly has a special relationship with another member of the family – Dacre's son Alex, aged 34.

After studying at Oxford and the LSE, Alex Dacre got his first job as bag-carrier to the chief executive of Restore, an office relocation firm in which Ashcroft had a 44 percent stake. He then moved to Ashcroft's Impellam Group, a provider of specialist staff for healthcare and other industries. In 2015 Dacre Jnr proposed a new venture to Ashcroft, who agreed to back him. (With happy symmetry, a few months later Dacre Snr bought the serial rights to Ashcroft's pig-sticking book about Cameron.)

Thus was born Marlowe plc, an outsourcing firm for services such as workplace health and safety and employment law, which has expanded so rapidly through a hectic spree of acquisitions that Alex Dacre is now a director of 106 subsidiary companies. "If you need to comply with some government regulation or other, Marlowe has got an app for that," a glowing profile in the Times observed recently. These may be the regulations often derided by the Mail as "elf 'n' safety gone mad", but they are proving lucrative for the editor-in-chief's son and his noble sponsor. Ashcroft, as Marlowe's largest shareholder, is sitting on a £110m profit; young Dacre's stake is worth £50m.

A major donor to a fundraising campaign
As it happens, Ashcroft also has a "special relationship" with the Mail's owner. In 2014 Ashcroft was a major donor to a fundraising campaign to renovate the Imperial War Museum – a campaign chaired by Lord Rothermere, whose great-grandfather donated the land on which the museum was built after World War I. Ashcroft's and Rothermere's names appeared alongside each other in the press release announcing the project.

Alex Dacre told the Times earlier this year that his "passion for business and my work ethic both come from my father. I have yet to come across many businesspeople who understand their customer and what their customers care about as well as he does." What his dad's customers care about, to judge by what Paul Dacre and Ted Verity give them, is the gospel according to Lord Ashcroft. There has long been speculation that Ashcroft wanted to buy a Fleet Street title to give himself a platform as a political power-broker. But why bother when he already has one, thanks to his friends in high places at the Mail?

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Next issue on sale: 13th July 2022

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The Financial Times has renamed its glossy How to Spend It weekend magazine for rich readers, but the move to HTSI has not gone at all well.

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13th July 2022
Private Eye Issue 1574