Torygraph smears Clegg: is this the best the rightwing press can do?

Tomorrow’s Daily Torygraph has the absolutely D-E-V-A-S-T-A-T-I-N-G story that before Nick Clegg became Lib Dem leader he received donations from donors which he declared in the MPs’ register of interests in order to pay a researcher on his staff. Shock, horror etc.

The story is here. It shows that three Lib Dem donors, Ian Wright, Neil Sherlock and Michael Young – all of them registered Lib Dem donors – paid £250 each per month directly into Nick’s personal bank account. The figures were contained in personal bank statements submitted by Nick to the House of Commons. It was officially declared to the parliamentary authorities that his office received money from the three businessmen, all of whom have said they were satisfied their donations had been used to fund a member of staff.

After a lot of innuendo the paper then publishes Nick’s explanation:

Mr Clegg said last night that the money received from the businessmen had been used to pay a member of staff and not to fund his personal expenditure. However, he said that after he became party leader in 2007 the arrangement had been changed and the money was now paid directly to the Liberal Democrats.

He added: “All payments were declared as a standing item on the register of members’ interests and used appropriately to fund an additional member of staff in my parliamentary office. When I became leader of the Liberal Democrats, the arrangements were changed so that the money was paid through the Parliamentary Office of the Liberal Democrats.”

Fair’s fair: there is a story in this, somewhere. (Though you’ll have to hunt to find it). It probably wasn’t a good idea for private donations to be channelled through Nick’s personal bank account.

What is ludicrous, though, is the prominence the Torygraph has given what looks like a gossamer-thin story. There is no suggestion that the donations were illegal. There is no suggestion the donations were used for anything other than funding a member of Nick’s research team. And there is no suggestion that the donations were not publicly declared. Does anyone seriously believe it’s a story that merits this front page splash?

What we’re seeing from the Torygraph – as we have already seen in today’s Mail and Sun – is a full-scale attempt by the rightwing press to torpedo Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems. The old vested interests of the establishment are in a blind funk, united in disbelief that they appear unable to instruct their readers what to think.

This is becoming a fascinating, and important, election. This is no longer just about whether the Lib Dems end up with more MPs on 6th May. It is also about whether the rightwing press, the forces of conservatism, are able to dictate the news agenda. I’ve a feeling the Torygraph is going to regret this non-story, that the newspaper’s too-blatant attempt to smear Nick will backfire on them, and undermine the credibility they gained during the MPs’ expenses scandal.

As Jeremy Paxman just commented on BBC2’s Newsnight, “It seems to me a lot of stuff and nonsense.”

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46 Comments

  • Three business men donate money to Clegg to fund staffer, Clegg uses money to fund staffer and declares the donation to the appropriate people… The shock? The horror? The Scandal? Umm….. what next? The Telegraph can reveal that Nick Clegg has been living off the taxpayer’s money since he was elected as an MP. Clegg claims the money, commonly known as an MP’s salary, has been used to fund his work as a politician. A vaguely prominent person told the Telegraph “There’s nothing wrong with it obviously, but if you buy me lunch I’ll give you a suitably outraged quote.”

  • The smears against Nick have started with momentum ahead of tomorrow’s debate. Is anyone surprised? British ‘free press’, bastion of free speech, determined to ensure election is a two horse race without LDems.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 22nd Apr '10 - 12:33am

    Alix

    The trouble is that the article says that one of the donors says “the payments had to be made into Mr Clegg’s personal bank account because there was no fund for the “Parliamentary Office of the Liberal Democrats”” but then suggests from other evidence that in fact there was such an account.

    And it also says that Clegg’s spokesman was not in a position to produce the paperwork to show that the money had been used to fund half a researcher’s salary, “but added that this could be produced in future”, whatever (or whenever) that means.

    I see that the party is disputing the factual accuracy of the report, so perhaps things aren’t quite as they appear.

    But on the whole, I think Stephen’s comment that “It probably wasn’t a good idea for private donations to be channelled through Nick’s personal bank account” is the understatement of the campaign so far.

  • Andreas Christodoulo 22nd Apr '10 - 12:41am

    I’m fairly sure the not being in a position to produce paperwork right now will have something to do with the election. He’s probably busy campaigning or something 😛

  • The Nazi headline about Nick Clegg in the Daily Mail may well lead to its own humiliation as there are plenty of photos of Lord Rothermere, its autocratic proprietor, out there together with another autocratic proprietor – Adolph Hitler. Letters written by the Mail’s owner beginning “My Dear Fuhrer, everyone in England is profoundly moved by the bloodless solution to the Czechoslovakian problem”etc could prove highly embarrassing for Paul Dacre and his ghastly thugs. I hope the LibDems are aware how Andy Coulson coordinates such a campaign. This time the nice party can afford to take the gloves off !

  • Malcolm Todd 22nd Apr '10 - 12:44am

    Plus it’s a standard newspaper trick to ring up and demand an instant response on the grounds that their deadline is in half an hour, so “not able to get hold of it right now” could be literally, but trivially, true.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 22nd Apr '10 - 12:57am

    “I’m fairly sure the not being in a position to produce paperwork right now will have something to do with the election. He’s probably busy campaigning or something”

    I’d suggest taking 5 or 10 minutes to find the relevant records would be time extremely well spent. Ditto even if the records are in an awful mess and it took an hour or two to find them.

  • Well on the ITV news, they said that he was prepared to show his bank statements to prove that the Telegraph is talking nonsense.

    “determined to ensure election is a two horse race without LDems”

    Close, but they actually want it to be a one horse race for the Tories.

  • The Telegraph is taking a big risk in order to pursue a party political agenda. Its report has no journalistic merit. Turning a non-story into your front page lead is extraordinarily ill-advised – if you hope to sustain any credibility as a newspaper.

    From the perspective of those who make and control the Telegraph’s editorial policy the stakes must appear incredibly high. And I think they are – for those who own The Telegraph and for the Conservative party. Nick should reflect on just how seriously his challenge to the Tory establishment is now being taken and press on with his mission to frustrate politics as usual and become the undisputed champion of reason and reform.

    The Daily Mail piece is beyond parody…and, like The Telegraph piece, it also appears to have written to order.

    It will do Liberal Democrats no harm to point that out and very publicly acknowledge that Nick has become the principal target of those who most fear CHANGE and who are militantly opposed to greater FAIRNESS in British society.

    The British public know their press and are likely to agree with Liberal Democrats who point out that the Daily Mail and The Telegraph have turned themselves into purveyors of rather nasty last minute election leaflets.

  • I’m reminded of the scene in “The American President”.

    A year before becoming leader some long standing party members donated money, in an entirely proper fashion, and which was declared to the relevant authorities which I then spent to support my Parliamentary activities. If that makes the front page of the Telegraph what on earth is on page 6!

  • I believe that Clegg was also friends with terrorists and attended a church led by a radical black pastor.

  • I was watching BBC Breakfast just before and they were showing all the headlines and EVERY right-wing paper had something bad about Clegg on the front page! All the “stories” are almost completely false, fabricated and blown out of proportion. I couldn’t care less about what the press say about Nick and the LibDems but it frightens me that people actually believe this obvious rubbish.

  • Andrew Suffield 22nd Apr '10 - 7:17am

    The Telegraph is taking a big risk in order to pursue a party political agenda. Its report has no journalistic merit. Turning a non-story into your front page lead is extraordinarily ill-advised – if you hope to sustain any credibility as a newspaper.

    This assumes that the Telegraph and Mail have any credibility. The Mail certainly doesn’t, and I’m not too sure the Telegraph has any left these days.

  • Mark Senior 22nd Apr '10 - 8:21am

    Time for Cleggy to turn the tables . He can describe the Conservative press as being simply tools of the Conservative party trying with smears innuendoes and half truths to rescue an election campaign where they have lost the argument on policies .
    He should openly challenge the editors of The Sun , Mail and Telegraph to a public debate to discuss and answer their points . I would expect them to run for cover and a picture of Cleggy facing 3 cardboard cutouts of the editors with a caption ” frit of the people could seal the deal .

  • Here’s what I think somebody from the Lib Dems needs to say today out loud & as publicly as possible:
    “These are smears, plain & simple. Smears directed from the desks of the barons of big media. If they continue to tell lies about Nick Clegg then we need to tell the truth about them. They are not interested in solving the problems of Britain. They’re interested in protecting their privileged positions – tax-avoiding, loophole-exploiting positions. The former editor of The Sun, David Yelland, has said recently that success for the Liberal Dmocrats would lock Rupert Murdoch out of power in Britain – lock him out of the cosy relationship he’s had for decades with both Conservative and Labour governments.

    We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, billionaires Rupert Murdoch are not the least bit interested in solving it. They are interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and making you afraid of anyone who promises real change. That’s what today’s front pages are REALLY saying. They are scare-mongers and the LibDems are hope-mongers – that’s the way we’ll continue.”

  • Andy, well said!

  • Am amused at your attacks on the right-wing press. While the Telegraph may be the messenger this has all the hallmarks of a classic Labour smear operation emanating from the McBride tendency. Chances are they hope it will damage the Tories too.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 22nd Apr '10 - 9:05am

    “I suspect the spokesperson was just badly informed and/or was attempting to use a silly defence rather than the correctt one. I used to be a tax adviser. I’m pretty sure I’m right.”

    It was a donor who was quoted on this, not a spokesperson.

    You may well be right about the legalities – and this may well blow over without damaging the party too much (I was surprised to see that most of the comments on Political Betting were of the “so what?” variety, where a feeding frenzy might have been expected).

    But I still think Clegg behaved very stupidly in getting donors to pay money into his personal account rather than a separate one, and I find it very difficult to believe that this would be common practice among MPs. Certainly Martin Bell didn’t think so, and I’d expect him to know about this kind of thing.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 22nd Apr '10 - 9:12am

    Looking at the headlines in the tabloids, it doesn’t look as though they are running with this story:
    http://www6.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2010/04/22/tabloids-cover-lib-dems-sensation/

    But they mostly seem to be headlining anti-Lib-Dem stories. Interesting that they’re all different, which is perhaps a good sign. I’m not sure how effective these attacks are likely to be, considering that the party has been under attack by the press since the weekend, but that its poll ratings have continued to rise.

  • We can win now. But, and only if on National TV Nick Clegg looks directly into the camera and utters the words “We will win, your vote is not wasted and will be a vote for change.” It’s the only message that will reach swing voters, those who want to keep the other party out and the large number who, like Ruppert Murdock, wnat to vote for the winning party.

  • There is evidence of an attempt at a concerted attack by the Tory press on Nick in particular. According to the “Today” programme and the Independent’s Steve Richards, James Murdoch turned up with his right hand woman (the one who used to edit the Sun) at the offices of the Independent and demanded a meeting with Simon Kellner. Kellner took them into a side room where, by all accounts, they seemed to launch into a rant which left Kellner looking completely baffled. The suggestion was that this was an attempt by the Murdoch press to influence the Indy’s editorial line on the Lib Dems.

    In a subsequent interview (which I only heard part of) Trevor Kavanagh also appeared to agree that the lift in support for the Lib Dems was causing a problem for Murdoch and he needed to squash it. David Yelland’s comments in the Guardian illustrate perfectly why.

    All this is reminding me a bit too much of Benjamin Landless and his links with Francis Urquhart in “House of Cards”! Dobbs gets it right again?

  • Full credit to Iain Dale – very balanced report on this – hope the people behind the attack startegy at Tory HQ are listening….

  • Barry Barnett 22nd Apr '10 - 9:38am

    I’ve just read through the previous 27 comments (or in some cases rants) and can find no mention of the word “lobbyist”. Has every Lib Dem really been conned into believing that Saint Nick never worked for a lobbying company (or two), just because it doesn’t appear on his official CV?

    Having just heard the obnoxious Chris Huhne on the “Today” programme, I can understand why we see (or hear) so few Liberal Party spokesmen other than Saint Nick. He certainly convinced me to keep my vote where it is.

  • Barry – why should it matter? Please explain.

  • @Paul, aggreed Iain Dale showing he’s an honourable man. Saying what he has when his own party’s chips are down took real moral courage.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 22nd Apr '10 - 10:57am

    Actually the article doesn’t specify second home mortgage payments. It says “The same account was used to pay his mortgage, shopping and other personal expenditure”. That doesn’t sound like a special account dedicated to his political activities.

  • I can’t believe their isn’t a backlash against the Daily Mail, given its past support for the Nazis. As I posted last night, there are photos of this paper’s owner keenly supporting Hitler which could be used to fight back.
    Go to it LiberalDemocrats, or don’t you have a rebuttal unit of any kind with the spine to remind the public of the truth?

  • Running for political office costs money.

    If I wanted to financially support a prospective party candidate I may well prefer to send off a cheque made out to the candidate as opposed to having the money lost in some national political pot – I would not know how else to make out a cheque. That money would therefore have to be processed through a private bank account.

    There is no law against me making a financial gift to anyone I choose. This is a non story that will do more harm to the Telegraph than to Clegg. It is my preferred newspaper but I thought this was pretty shabby stuff.

  • The Telegraph has just posted a blog piece defending the story (sorry, don’t have the link to paste but I found it via the BBC website.) It’s almost as if they realise that the stories are starting to backfire already with the #nickcleggsfault hashtag!

  • Hmm. Is that it? Nick Clegg used the “wrong” bank account?

    Wow, how will the Lib Dems survive the scandal? I think Mr Clegg will be forced to resign as leader within days

  • Anthony Aloysius St 22nd Apr '10 - 3:52pm

    Alix

    Thanks. I missed that.

    But the mention of “shopping and other personal expenditure” does make it sound as though it wasn’t a special account dedicated to his political activities, doesn’t it?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 22nd Apr '10 - 7:37pm

    The paperwork has now materialised, according to the BBC:
    On Thursday night Mr Clegg released copies of his bank statements and other paperwork in an attempt to clear up the row.
    The figures released by the party show donations from three private donors amounting to £19,690 were paid into Mr Clegg’s account between January 2006 and January 2008.
    But according to the Lib Dems’ figures Mr Clegg paid £20,437.30 into party coffers between March 2006 and February 2008 for staffing costs.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/8636311.stm

  • The answer to the title question is of course ‘yes, that is the best they can do’. And we can be glad about that.

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