Daily Mail’s Kelvin MacKenzie hire signals epic final battle of the red tops among UK dailies

Time was when there was a middle market in UK newspapers, the Daily Mail and Daily Express fighting over the millions of aspiring middle class readers who wouldn’t be seen dead buying the Sun or the Mirror, and didn’t have the time for the Daily Telegraph or The Times.

But that time’s gone and there’s one fight in London town; who gets the most readers (from anywhere).

Last week the Daily Mail hired columnist Kelvin Mackenzie from the Sun, the paper he edited for Rupert Murdoch in its 1980s and early 1990s heyday.

Mackenzie left Murdoch’s News International empire to work for Mirror Group-funded Live TV (which featured the ‘News Bunny’ and Topless Darts among its other contributions to national media wellbeing) and then made a small fortune by buying commercial station Talk Radio (later rebranded TalkSport) which he later sold to Ulster Television for a tidy sum. Murdoch is believed to have lent his old editor the money.

So for MacKenzie to depart the Sun for deadly rival the Daily Mail is a big deal, much bigger than the departure a few years ago of similarly rabble-rousing right wing columnist Richard Littlejohn (who seems to staying at the Mail).

There are only two conclusions to be drawn from this (especially bearing in mind the £1m plus the Mail must be paying MacKenzie).

Either Mail editor in chief Paul Dacre has completely lost his marbles and is about to piss off those remaining Mail readers who think it’s a ‘proper’ newspaper and a not a tabloid rag. These will certainly include his star Mail on Sunday sports columnist, Liverpool maanger Kenny Dalglish, who won’t have forgiven MacKenzie for the Sun’s vicious coverage of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 when over a hundred Liverpool fans lost their lives).

Or Dacre, and his boss Jonathan Rothermere, have noticed that the money is ebbing out of newspapers faster than they can write rude headlines about Ed Milliband.

And also that Mail Online is now the second-biggest newspaper website on earth (after the New York Times) on an editorial diet of celeb news, wardrobe malfunctions and men biting dogs. Which looks increasingly like a template for the Mail’s print version.

This, plus some virulent right wing politics of course (Kelvin’s yer man for this too), seems to be the format Dacre and Rothermere have decided on to pitch their once genteel paper against the Sun.

Years ago Rupert Murdoch predicted that the UK newspaper market would be reduced to his News International and Mail publisher Associated Newspapers.

He probably didn’t anticipate that it would become a life and death struggle between the Sun and the Daily Mail. But surely that’s what MacKenzie’s expensive defection means.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.