By Tim Montgomerie
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Always angry but with a great instinct for middle Britain, Paul Dacre edits what is probably the most powerful newspaper in Britain. After a slow start the Daily Mail has developed a hugely successful web presence. Powered by an infamous right hand column of celebrity images (with the attention span of a goldfish I often find myself logging on to check the latest in politics but end up clicking links about David Beckham or Cheryl Cole) it's become the second most read newspaper website in the English speaking world (given that the New York Times has now partly gone behind a paywall it may now be #1).
Two weeks ago the Mail launched Right Minds. Right Minds aims to put the Mail at the heart of the online comment market. Up until now Telegraph blogs – edited by Damian Thompson – has wiped the floor with the Mail's offering and I expect it will do so for some time yet. Two years ago Telegraph blogs were slightly hysterical. The only kind of comment you could find there was angry right-wingery. Cameron-bashing dominated its politics pages. After I dared to criticise its pre-election troublemaking all Telegraph bloggers were ordered not to link to ConservativeHome. Things have now moved on. ConHome/ Telegraph relations are happier and, more importantly, Telegraph blogs have become a much broader platform. Benedict Brogan, for example, offers the insights that once made his Mail blog so unmissable. The likes of Graeme Archer, Neil O'Brien and Andrew Lilico (all once ConHome contributors) have also joined the Telegraph family and have added balance and thoughtfulness to the offering. Unlike Right Minds (or 'Not In Their Right Minds' as a naughty Paul Waugh has dubbed it) Telegraph blogs also find room for centre left voices – notably the insightful John McTernan. The very title "Right Minds" limits the Mail's reach. I can't imagine small 'c' conservatives like Katharine Birbalsingh, for example, feeling comfortable blogging under that headline.
Right Minds has a slightly cluttered feel to it and no simple feed listing the very latest contributions. Overall, however, I'm sure it will succeed. It will succeed because the Mail's underlying traffic is just so enormous. It will succeed because of the quality of its contributors (all listed here). It will succeed because the newspaper industry knows that what's true of today's Guardian (it's a website with a newspaper attached) will be true of all titles before very long. I also think that the Mail has been clever to integrate its dead tree comment with its blogs while The Telegraph still tends to make a distinction.
The tussle between the Mail and Telegraph has added spice because "Simon Heffer PHD" (as MailOnline labels him) recently left The Telegraph in less than happy circumstances. He's now in charge of Right Minds (although not strangely listed as one of its regular contributors). People at The Telegraph suspect he'll enjoy trying to knock The Telegraph off its perch and also throwing bricks at his old adversary, David Cameron. First blood has gone to The Telegraph, however, after another ex-ConHome blogger – Nile Gardiner – spent just eight days at the Mail before returning to The Telegraph. Damian Thompson wasn't shy about tweeting that victory. Nile matters because he's one of those bloggers with reach into the American market and both the Mail and Telegraph have high hopes for across the pond. The Guardian has as many readers in the USA as in Britain and is credited with fueling the left-wing netroots during George W Bush's presidency. Thompson has big ambitions to increase traffic during next year's US presidential election year. The aim is to offer something to an American audience that is less po-faced than most US journalism. Toby Harnden is already doing that for The Telegraph. The Mail have cleverly hooked Charlie Wolf.
Conservative HQ will look at this anxiously. Nearly all of Right Minds' contributors are to the traditional right of Cameron. To the right on climate change. To the right on law and order. To the right on taxes. Nearly all are Coalition-sceptics. In many ways it's like The Telegraph before 'Broganisation'. The best feature for me is the Chapman&Co page – the blog of the whole Mail political team. James Chapman writes a terrific piece this morning on the "risible" buddy hotline for big business. Much of what James Chapman, Tim Shipman, Kirsty Walker and Co know about politics can't get into the paper and is too thoughtful for Twitter. Now we can all read their insights online. I recommend you bookmark it.
Competition between newspapers is different from blogs. Whereas people often consumed just one newspaper they read many websites. With The Telegraph and Mail both flourishing the dominance of The Guardian's website is over. It's also a challenge to websites like ConHome – although in a growing internet market there's plenty of room for everyone, especially if sites like ConHome choose to provide specialist material. The important thing is that we are only at the start of a revolution. It won't be long before the device we now know as an iPad will be essentially the same as the TV we have in our living rooms or the newspaper that arrives through our letter boxes. The Guardian will be doing more campaigning. The TaxPayers' Alliance will be producing more video. YouGov will be publishing more opinion. Media will be indistinguisable and voices of the Right look increasingly ready for that moment.