Would an infinite number of monkeys be able to write an accurate story for the Telegraph?

To be honest, I’m starting to feel sorry for the Telegraph’s political journalists. It must get quite tricky week after week coming up with new half-truths to try and stretch into a story that even their Coalition-hating editors won’t spike for being too thin.

This weekend brought new ‘revelations’ from the reliably inaccurate Melissa Kite and Patrick Hennessy that the Lib Dems are (in any order you like) about to: change our name; no-con Nick Clegg; install Chris Huhne as leader; trigger a general election; insist Col Gadaffi is brought into the cabinet. Okay, I made that last one up… but you get the picture.

The reality, of course, is nothing like, as Lib Dem blogger Charlotte Henry notes:

… the story is designed to do nothing more than overplay the discomfort of some elements of the party, hence the Telegraph’s citing of the SDP in their claim that the super-new-rebranded-not-Liberal-Democrats will have “Social” in their title. It is, as Nick Clegg might put it, “utter bilge”.

Memo to Ms Kite and Mr Hennessy: keep on trying, eventually you’re bound to stumble upon a genuine story if you write enough words.

Memo to Lib Dems: remember there’s only one thing worse than being talked about in the Torygraph…

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19 Comments

  • Well…..It is good to make a joke out of this stuff. And, in fairness I imagine that most people who write for the Sundays realise that the tiniest bit of scrutiny will deflate any story. And yet there is a wider and much more serious point to be made here.

    Although a great many found the media treatment handed out to Brown fair game, I watched it with an increasing sense of discomfort. Kicking the bloke because he is blind in one eye was a repulsive new low. I know of no one who thinks that a 24 hour news cycle is a good thing, yet the wild oversupply of media grows unquestioned. The only way these people can get any attention is shrill rumour. Does anyone outside of the political bubble take this seriously? Who knows, but with Brown and (increasingly) the post-election Lib Dems we have seen the frenzy (and I use that word deliberately) start to feed on itself. Where is the disinterested presentation of events, the separation of comment, the balanced thought – the news?

    There is an argument that those who joined the anti-Brown frenzy have no grounds for complaint having fed the beast – an argument I have some degree of sympathy for. But we must look beyond this equivalence. Pumping out this personality-nonsense is bad for civic life and is debasing our politics. Is this really what journalism should be about?

    And all this by the way is before we get to the internet.

  • Hennessy is a Labour supporter

  • Well, of course the Telegraph article didn’t quite say what Stephen claims (even putting Gaddafi aside), but I suppose a bit of distortion is only to be expected. As is Stephen’s elision of “It seems to [Virtually Naked]” from the beginning of his quotation, just to make it sound a bit more definite.

    But where’s the proof that there’s nothing in this story? Following the link, all it amounts to is a statement on a blog by “the Vice-Chair Communications of Liberal Youth” that “VN has learned there is no rebrand underway, at all.”

    If only things could really be settled so easily, journalism would be like falling off a log …

  • RedOrange – With the greatest of respect, putting people in the position of having to prove a negative is pretty much what these hacks want.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Mar '11 - 10:58am

    While the Telegraph has written objectionable and fanciful things, I couldn’t see anything particularly wrong with this article.

    That a previous contender in a close-run leadership election might be thinking about standing again is hardly “news”. Are we honestly to suppose that Mr Huhne never thinks about such things? It is hardly news that leadership elections in parties do tend to happen after general elections, particularly if the party performs poorly in the election.

    It is hardly news either that many members of the party have been disappointed by Mr Clegg’s performance as Leader. Note, that it is perfectly possible to be entirely convinced that it was right to go into the coalition, even to feel that the party is on the whole doing the right things in coalition, but still to think it is not being led as well as it should be from the top.

    That the party will need to do something with a fairly big impact to establish its independent identity after the coalition is also very obvious. The party voted in its Spring conference that it would campaign as an entirely independent force, so it will have to do something to make that clear to the electorate at the next election. Even if one accepts that it was entirely correct to go into the coalition (which I do), and that the party has been doing its best within the coalition (which I don’t), it is inevitable that junior partner in a coalition tends to come out the worse from it, so any sensible person involved in running the party needs to be thinking how we can move forward form the coalition.

    Of course various ideas about what might be done to make an impact and move forward will be thought of. Some may be thought of and immediately rejected, others may be worth playing with but still get rejected. Even if one thinks that Mr Clegg has done as good a job as he could under the circumstances (which I don’t), one may still come to the conclusion for entirely practical reason that part of the necessary re-establishment of the party from its junior coalition position, where it has inevitably become bound to government policies some of which it would not be happy with if it were not in the coalition, is that it would have to have a new leader. It may well be the case that Mr Clegg, having bravely led the Liberal Democrats into the coalition, and done enough to prevent us from being entirely destroyed in the next election – and it would be a credit to him if we aren’t – has to be a “sacrificial victim”. It would be a credit to him if he could stand down with honour, accepting that in the post-election situation we need a new face to take us forward.

    Talking about things like this is simply sensible forward-planning – it is something any business would do. I hate this aspect of British party politics that media commentary is written under the supposition that the only public or even semi-private position any party member can take is to pledge undying support for the life-time leadership of the current party leader. Look – we have it in our name – “Democrats”. Isn’t it part of being a democrat that one can change one’s leader and one can openly discuss it? Why do we suppose that when it comes to internal politics in political parties, we have to choose the likes of Libya and North Korea as our models?

    Mark, I am sorry, but your line here sounds much like the ultra-loyalist placemen we have heard much of recently, the more they deny even the possibility that the Great Leader and his plans may be fallible, the more ludicrous they appear. It would be much better if we could be entirely relaxed about the fact that there are some in the party who are discussing how it will be in the future, and throwing about some ideas about possible changes of image, leader and so on.

  • Duncan

    Well, whatever your speculation about that, the fact is that we have some unattributed statements from party “insiders” in the Telegraph, and an unattributed denial of one of those statements on a blog.

    The sources on both sides are both unidentified and partial, so I think a more sensible conclusion would be that the truth of the matter is anyone’s guess.

  • “Mark, I am sorry, but your line here sounds much like the ultra-loyalist placemen we have heard much of recently …”

    Did you mean “Stephen, I am sorry …”, or were you being ultra-ironic?

  • RedOrange –

    ‘the fact is that we have some unattributed statements from party “insiders” in the Telegraph, and an unattributed denial of one of those statements on a blog.’

    In other words, this is not in any meaningful sense of the word, ‘news.’

    ‘The sources on both sides are both unidentified and partial, so I think a more sensible conclusion would be that the truth of the matter is anyone’s guess.’

    Agreed – but isn’t the point of printing this fluff in the first place? To just encourage speculation? This is the point of my earlier post – how is this in any way adding to the quality of civic life? I don’t know – possibly I am looking back on good old days of journalism that were never that good, all that has changed is the quantity?

  • Matthew Huntback – ‘it is inevitable that junior partner in a coalition tends to come out the worse from it’

    Sorry, can you elaborate on that? I can’t see anything inevitable about it at all. Not to say that there is anything easy about being the junior partner (and certainly the LDs were in a terribly weak position in 2010) but I don’t see anything inevitable per se.

  • Its well known that the Telegraph’s owners hate the Coalition and Cameron for going into it, and are seeking any means possible to destabilise it. The easiest way for them to achieve it, and at the same time give a kicking to the despised Lib Dems, is to write this sort of story trying to magnify internal division. Unfortunately some in the party seem keen to go along with it.

    If entering the coalition alienated one set of voters, leaving it would alienate the rest at which point we could all pack up and go home.

  • “In other words, this is not in any meaningful sense of the word, ‘news.’”

    Well, maybe, and maybe not. I’d have thought it was reasonably newsworthy if true.

    But my point really is that Stephen is dismissing it as untrue on evidence that seems as insubstantial as that behind the story itself.

    As for the complaints about the nasty journalists being out to get the Lib Dems, I doubt it’s quite as simple as that. No doubt there are people within the party willing to pass information to journalists in pursuit of their own ends. And no doubt it happens on both sides.

  • @Duncan – see the Green Party in Ireland this year, the Free Democrats in Germany, and (arguably) ourselves in Scotland in 2007, in that we didn’t move forward as much as the 2005 General Election results suggested we should have.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 28th Mar '11 - 5:36pm

    I’ll think you’ll find that the Daily Mail has a cornered the market in typing monkeys.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Mar '11 - 10:17pm


    “Mark, I am sorry, but your line here sounds much like the ultra-loyalist placemen we have heard much of recently …”

    Did you mean “Stephen, I am sorry …”, or were you being ultra-ironic

    My mistake, I meant Stephen.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Mar '11 - 10:26pm

    Duncan, re “it is inevitable that junior partner in a coalition tends to come out the worse from it”

    Sorry, can you elaborate on that? I can’t see anything inevitable about it at all. Not to say that there is anything easy about being the junior partner (and certainly the LDs were in a terribly weak position in 2010) but I don’t see anything inevitable per se

    Well, if not inevitable then highly likely. I’ve seen it happen in all those situations in local government I’ve known about where we’re been the junior party in joint control. It also seems to be what generally happens in those European countries where coalitions are common. The German FDP, for example, seems to go up when it is in opposition and down when it is in government.

    The pattern seems to be that supporters of the senior coalition partner generally see the government doing what they want, while supporters of the junior partner don’t. Being the junior partner means you have to shut up the criticism and yet be part of a government which since you are a junior partner mostly isn’t doing what you would do if you were in complete control. The opposition then sees your supporters as easy pickings, so you bear the brunt of their attacks.

  • There are plenty of examples from around Europe where the junior coalition partner does not lose large amounts of support. Indeed if you think about it, given that most governments across Europe operate as coalitions most of the time there would hardly ever be any governments formed if it was such a poisoned challice.

    The Irish Greens, FDP and Lib Dems all went into coalitions on the back of unusually high votes gained in times of great uncertainty and in each case the government had to deal with major economic upheaval. Looked at with slightly more historical perspective than the average rolling news presenter could muster, they seem more likely to turn out as anomalies than the norm.

    It’s also worth remembering that Lib Dem poll ratings actually went UP after the coalition was formed and that the general election is four years away.

    It’s not being in government that gets you. It’s what you do with it that counts.

  • Duncan asked “Does anyone outside of the political bubble take this seriously?”

    I’d say the public do believe what they read. I was asked only yesterday about the Mail report of incident in which GB was allegedly personally responsible for having a pregnant woman removed from her airplane seat.

    Once the public take against you, thanks to the media hyping stories that are untrue, you’ve lost it.
    The beginning of the end as I saw it for GB was from your sainted Vince with his Mr. Bean jibe. It illuminated in that moment his previously hidden nasty underbelly, and I was shocked at his self satisfied smugness that day, and I’ve never forgotten it.
    So when Clegg and co., particularly Vince, get a kicking in the media, I’m prepared to accept it as gospel, LOL, and spread it around too. What goes around comes around.

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