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

by Stephen Tall on April 21, 2010

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.”