The Daily Telegraph

I was cold-called recently by someone from the Daily Telegraph asking me about my newspaper habits. My initial answer was that as far as habits go I had none in this field other than the FT on Saturday. Intermittently I will buy a (broadsheet) paper on a random basis – genuinely random – and read my mother’s copy of the Daily Mail with shame and the Evening Standard on the train home once a week.

I was pressed on the Telegraph. On consideration I gave her the truthful answer that I will almost never buy the Telegraph after their coverage of the MP’s expenses scandal. At the time, the editor obviously considered that he had the mother of all scoops and ran it as the paper’s headline for, I think, over a month. Every day.

The first point about this is that it showed a lack of any sense of proportion. MP’s are underpaid and were told to fatten their expenses as a cheap and cowardly way out of having a proper debate about their remuneration. Some, very few, were crooked and have paid the price; others followed the spirit of law - and were crucified by the letter after the scandal broke. Some were hanged by legerdemain such as the famous duck house that the MP in question never claimed but was on the same invoice as other items that were. It was shabby all round – as much by the Telegraph as anyone – but did this merit prime position in the paper for over a month? Which brings me the second point – that it was just plain boring. This should have hanged the Telegraph on its own merits.

But lastly it was extraordinarily destructive to the institutions that the Telegraph, more than any other newspaper, claims to uphold. In a sanctimonious way (hello Leveson) it painted every MP as a freeloader enriching themselves at the taxpayers’ expense. They painted a picture of universal corruption where the truth, for the vast majority of MP’s, was that in a low-grade grubby sort of way they were trying to get by on salaries that were simply not adequate for running two homes and living a basic middle-class life. The only ones to escape opprobrium were rich enough to be able to survive without claiming expenses. Why anyone would want to be an MP, unless they are rich, is beyond me.

The poor woman who called me got rather more than she was anticipating.

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