Once upon a time, the Daily Telegraph was practically the house journal of the Conservative Party. Today, many Conservatives have sworn never to touch it again. The reason? Its over-the-top coverage of the expenses scandal. Few would disagree that to start with, at least, the paper had a point and did a public service. But by extending the story beyond its natural life, by scraping the barrel and squeezing the lemon dry, they overdid it and started to undermine trust and confidence in our institutions. As a media outlet, of course, they were keen to personalise the story, but their ad hominem attacks on MPs who had simply been working within the rules – and had been urged by the powers-that-be to ensure they maximised their claims – became rather nauseating.
If the system allowed MPs to charge for home and garden maintenance, then it comes as no surprise that home and garden items were charged – even manure for the rose beds. The airing of personal details and dirty washing was way over the top. I was particularly struck by the way one MP was vilified for charging a camera. I use a camera constantly in the course of my work as an MEP, and I make no apology for having charged the camera to my office expenses. It’s a legitimate tool of the job.
Now the Telegraph is at it again. On August 25th, it announced (Shock! Horror!) that the Tories were offering “Access to Ministers” for £1000. And it followed up next day by saying that they were offering access to the Prime Minister himself, David Cameron, for £2000. What a wicked abuse of public office! Shame upon them!
The paper has, of course, overlooked the fact that David Cameron is not only Prime Minister, but also the Leader of the Conservative Party, and he has duties in both rôles. Like it or not, one of the necessary tasks of Party management is fund-raising. And it turns out that “Access to Ministers” means no more than buying a ticket for a fund-raising dinner at Party Conference. Few people, and certainly not I – nor the Daily Telegraph – favour state funding for political parties. So we can hardly complain, surely, about a fund-raising dinner at a Party Conference. That is entirely normal, perfectly well known, and so far as I can tell it is done by all parties.
And “Access to Cameron” for £2000? That turns out to be “Team 2000”, a fund-raising project offering Party supporters the opportunity to become involved in the Party’s work and – yes – to attend the occasional meeting with key people. Again, a very normal, indeed traditional, method of fund-raising, and entirely proper and appropriate. So let me admonish the Telegraph in the words which Clement Attlee is supposed to have written to Harold Laski, “I can assure you there is widespread resentment in the Party at your activities, and a period of silence on your part would be welcome”.
Whether or not you are a major organ of the national press, there’s little percentage in biting the hand that feeds you.