Revisiting Jo Swinson and the Telegraph's #mpexpenses stories

by Stephen Tall on June 11, 2009

Remember the Telegraph’s hatchet job on Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson during their series of revelations about MPs’ expenses? (Lib Dem blogger James Graham has followed-up the issue on his own Quaequam Blog! HERE).

Well, on Monday evening, as billed here, I had the chance to put these points direct to the Daily Telegraph’s assistant editor, Andrew Pierce, at a debate posing the question, A triumph for journalism? (You can watch the debate online here – worth watching in full, but the section focusing on Jo starts about 29 minutes in).

The issues of dodgy Telegraph reporting – specifically in the case of Jo, and also those of Andrew George and Alan Reid covered by my LDV colleague Alix Mortimer HERE – is the subject of two in-depth articles by Judith Townend on, published today:

  • Telegraph ‘didn’t tell any lies but was selective in its facts’, says Lib Dem Voice site editor
  • Were these MPs’ expenses stories misleading? The screen grabs
  • The article also picks up on an expenses issue we at LDV missed: reported that the Telegraph had promised to correct a story about a mortgage interest of £1,500 a month, made by Liberal Democrat MP Martin Horwood. The MP denies claiming for any mortgage interest payment.

    This week I spotted something that might perhaps qualify as unique: a letter to a local newspaper which is a fair-minded, well-written and intelligent analysis of the MPs’ expenses situation. It’s well worth quoting in full:

    AMID all the hubbub created by the Daily Telegraph and MPs’ expenses, a few facts stand out.

    1. A small number of MPs seem to have done something that is a matter for the police and the courts.

    2. A larger number of MPs, but still a minority, have done things that are surely not illegal but are to their shame. Their constituents will pass judgment if they dare stand again for election.

    3. Some of the MPs named have clearly done nothing wrong or have made a small mistake that has been grossly exaggerated. They deserve an apology from the Telegraph.

    4. The majority of MPs have not even been accused of anything, yet seven per cent of people in a recent poll thought all MPs were corrupt. Let us hope that none of those seven per cent ever stand for parliament – who would want them in charge of the justice system?

    5. A significant minority of MPs has been campaigning for years to try to clean up MPs’ expenses. They succeeded in stopping a backbencher’s attempt to exempt MPs’ expenses from Freedom of Information legislation. They deserve credit for their efforts.

    There is a tendency for cynical people to think they are worldly wise, but they are not.

    They are gullible, because they will believe anything bad. There are some in the media who seem determined to create cynicism about politicians. Ask yourself why.

    Whatever the final outcome of this scandal, we cannot rebuild our parliament and government on cynicism and disrespect.

    We need urgently to identify the honest MPs, regardless of party, and rebuild around them.

    S Harvey, Hambrook, Bristol.


    No comments

    I must say Stephen I think you put the case very well indeed, and you most certainly did not get a satifactory answer from the Telegraph about Jo Swinson.
    What we see here is the Telegaph and other media outlets finding news stories, which if they can find the right spin will sell them more papers.
    I use the word spin deliberately. The best spin doctors are those you don’t notice or know the name of. What was why Peter Mandelson was bad at his job, he became the story and made the general public aware of who he was and what he does.
    The newspaper spin doctors on the other hand, no one knows who they are. Instead of seeking votes they want to sell papers, and often they don’t care how.
    This is how market forces operates.

    by Geoffrey Payne on June 11, 2009 at 9:36 pm. Reply #

    The corrupting effect of advertising, media is created based upon what is popular not what is wanted.

    How many people would pay for the metro? I wouldn’t, yet it fuels the celeb culture we live in & I do read it on occasion when I’m bored & bookless.

    by James S on June 11, 2009 at 11:17 pm. Reply #

    I love that letter. There is nothing you can add to that apart from a nod of agreement.


    by David Parkes on June 12, 2009 at 12:11 am. Reply #

    Interesting comments in the Guardian wednesday regarding the Telegraph’s agenda. Was it anything to do with the owners described in the column as’two secretive businessmen tax exiles who have probably denied the taxpayer 10 times the amount of all the MPs illegitimate expenses combined’. Certainly as the column states the reporting was not evenhanded but I disagree that it was designed to hurt Labour most, it was designed to hurt all three of the major Parties and benefited UKIP most.

    by Roger Shade on June 12, 2009 at 7:58 am. Reply #

    As the Daily Mail headline is clearly libelous (as opposed to deliberately misleading), can’t something be done about this?

    by LibCync on June 12, 2009 at 9:09 am. Reply #

    @LibCync: As yet I have not come across any cases of official complaints; I shall continue to look into whether any further action is being taken.

    I called the PCC yesterday who told me no complaints in regards to any MPs’ expenses newspaper stories have been made to date. In general, the PCC does not deal with third party complaints.

    GB’s brother, Andrew Brown, however, has won his libel action against the Scotland on Sunday in regards to a story they ran.

    If you have other examples you’d like to see followed up please send them to me – judith at

    by JTownend on June 12, 2009 at 10:32 am. Reply #

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