I’ve always thought of the Daily Mail as catering to a sort of Roundhead English tradition, the inheritors of low Protestantism, the solid middle class, high in conscientiousness and below average in openness. That’s not my tradition, personally; I identify with the Cavalier inheritance, more Catholic, more reactionary-but-in-a-jokey-way (or is it?), represented by the Daily Telegraph, a long line of heroes from Prince Rupert to Michael Wharton.
So it’s not my paper of choice, but it’s good at what it does and people I know and care for read it – almost all of them women, unsurprisingly, considering it has the highest female readership of any newspaper.
Indeed what I dislike about the Mail is the same thing I dislike about much of the British left, which also stems from that low Protestant tradition – the sense of perpetual outrage and the moral superiority. And I wonder if that sense of projection motivates many social justice campaigners opposed to the paper, many of whom seem pretty hate-filled themselves. They can’t be happy to just ignore something they dislike; no, they want everyone else to stop reading it too, and to stop advertising in it too.
This week the stationary firm Paperchase was cowed into withdrawing from a promotion in the Mail, issuing a pathetically feeble apology that ‘We’re truly sorry and we won’t ever do it again.’
The group did so in response to a campaign group called Stop Funding Hate which lobbies companies to stop advertising in the Mail, the Express and the Sun, supposedly because those titles are spreading hate against immigrants and other marginalised groups. Now that the group have scored such a big success they will no doubt be emboldened.
I wonder if the people behind this have any idea of the dark road they’re leading us down. In the United States, a well-funded group called Color of Change has, for some years, pressured major companies into supporting left-wing causes with the threat of public shaming; indeed many if not most big companies do fund progressive causes, whether same-sex marriage campaigns, pro-amnesty groups, gender-neutral bathrooms or even Planned Parenthood. Not only are their upper echelons Democrat-leaning but it costs very little for big firms to throw a bone to a lobby group, since they’re far more worried about the possibility of monopoly investigations or tax rises.
But what about those millions of consumers who don’t share those progressive views, who would like to buy a coffee without knowing the money is going to something with which they profoundly disagree? Well naturally they can turn to 2ndVote, a conservative group which informs consumers about the companies they are funding and, by implication, makes those corporations pay the price. Indeed, lots of US firms are explicitly quite political, as can be seen by the group’s website; most are progressive, but there are also quite a few explicitly conservative ones to mop up that share of the market.
And yet, as much as I like the idea of buying my lunch from someone who shares my values, this is a really, really bad road to go down. The whole miracle of capitalism, as Voltaire famously observed in his visit to the London Stock Exchange, was that it was able to break down barriers by enabling people to trade with those of a different worldview. Yet in the US political differences have evolved into political sectarianism, with the internet fuelling division as surely as the printing presses sowed hatred in 16th century Europe. And when goods stop crossing ideological boundaries then it’s only a matter of time before something else does.
Maybe the Stop Funding Hate people think they’re going to put the Mail out of business; they’re not, but what they’re actually doing is politicising the market place, and if they do that then conservatives will surely respond in kind. Is that really going to reduce hatred in the world?