For pity’s sake get them out
For all its faults, one thing the Daily Mail does well is campaigns, says Raymond Snoddy as he looks at the six-year effort to get visas for Afghan interpreters, translators and teachers
For some, particularly on the left, the Daily Mail is anathema, more a social problem than a newspaper, often taking relentless attacks on the people it dislikes into the realms of viciousness.
The charge sheet against the paper appears long – all the way back to the Hurrah For the Blackshirts column in the 1930s and on to recent monstrosities such as calling judges exercising their independent judgement as they are supposed to, Enemies of the People.
While the paper always was, and probably always will be a supporter of the Conservative Party, as are most of its readers, it was still trenchant in its vilification of Labour leaders such as Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband. It even gave the full Mail treatment to Miliband’s late father Ralph, claiming falsely that he hated Britain.
The paper was also an uncritical cheerleader for Brexit and paved the way for what, for many, was an anti-immigration vote, with years of front-page splashes devoted to negative stories about immigrants and refugees.
The Daily Mail has also been an enthusiastic supporter of opening up the economy at the earliest possible moment in the face of Covid-19, with scientists becoming the new “enemies of the people” because of their doom-mongering ways.
Critics can argue that because of such unambiguous stances, the Daily Mail not only made many of its readers poorer but may have actually endangered their lives.
Not many national newspapers could put that on the side of a bus.
That is not however the whole story, and to think that it is, verges on caricature.
The Daily Mail loves a good story and does not hold back - whether the targets are the politically correct, jobs-worths in local councils, errant Princes or bent Tory Cabinet ministers.
It is by its campaigns that we should judge it. Over the years there have been many bold and socially useful Mail campaigns on everything from the plight of Vietnamese orphans, and families falsely accused of abusing their children to tackling the “hidden” killer Sepsis and overturning the ban on medical use of cannabis.
Most famous of all of course was the 15-year- campaign to bring to justice the killers of Stephen Lawrence, including the brave front-page in 1997 featuring the pictures and names of those it said murdered Lawrence.
It was a long time ago, and the Daily Mail cannot forever use the case to flaunt its anti-racist credentials in the face of more contemporary concerns just because Lawrence was black and his killers were likely white.
One Daily Mail campaign, which has been playing out this week in horrendous technicolor deserves particular praise.
The paper has led the way in a six-year campaign to try to persuade reluctant British governments to issue visas to those Afghans who made essential contributions to the British presence in their country – interpreters, translators and teachers.
All those who remain are now in mortal danger at the hands of the Taliban.
As recent events have shown, the paper has only been partially successful with its Betrayal of the Brave campaign, but it hasn’t been for the want of trying.
The Daily Mail journalist who has led the charge on the issue, David Williams, reported last Thursday that the SAS had arrived in Kabul to help evacuate embassy staff and interpreters in the fear that they may have “just 15 days to get out of war-torn Kabul before Taliban fighters hunt them down.”
Alas they had nothing like that time, and many fear that they are already being hunted down with little chance of making it through Taliban roadblocks to the airport, even if the British Government shows very belated generosity.
In 2018, the Daily Mail won the campaign of the year award in the Press Gazette British Journalism Awards for its efforts.
The judges said: “The campaign to provide sanctuary in Britain for Afghan interpreters was a classic example of the Daily Mail’s relentless campaigning strength. When the Daily Mail believes in something it goes for it, and in this case it was also backed-up with great journalism about a cause which is counter to what some people would expect of the paper.”
There was plenty of campaigning to be done, against, for instance, the refusal of visa applications of 21 interpreters because they were hired by a private contractor rather than by the British Government.
Then there were those, denied visas because they had been fired for minor indiscretions such as returning late from leave after visiting a dying mother.
Others have been asked to produce documents they were formally advised to destroy to disguise links with the British.
David Williams sounds distraught as he has to deal with the calls of those who are trapped in Kabul and who understandably feel betrayed by their former employers. Delay has turned into a probable death sentence.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace, a former soldier who, unlike foreign secretary Dominic Raab and Prime Minister Johnson, did not go on his holidays in the midst of a crisis, was almost in tears at the weekend when he admitted it was too late to save many of the 1,700 Afghans and their families already cleared to come to the UK.
Maybe it wasn’t the most difficult task to campaign for well-educated Afghans who had the support of former British generals, rather than on behalf of wretched refugees being pulled out of the Channel, but at least the Daily Mail highlighted the issues and went on and on.
That is the true mark of a campaign rather than an individual investigation, however brilliant, which rapidly fades. You have to persevere for as long as it takes.
On Tuesday, the Daily Mail was still persevering despite the unexpectedly rapid collapse of the Afghan government.
The paper appealed to Raab to focus with every fibre of his being on getting the trapped interpreters out because that at least, amid the devastation and heartbreak, would be a small crumb of comfort.
“That is why today we renew our demand to ministers more urgently than ever: For pity’s sake get them out,” said the Daily Mail which could usefully in future extent the generosity of spirit shown to the Afghan interpreters to a wider range of the suffering of this earth.