Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Should the Telegraph stops its MP’s expenses investigations?

It is interesting that the fall of David Laws, who resigned as Chief Secretary to the Treasury over the weekend, has not been greeted with the same “serves him right” attitude that greeted last years’ revelations about duck houses, moats and second homes.

None of the weekend’s revelations concerning either Laws or Danny Alexander are new, in the sense that The Telegraph is merely mining the CD of information it bought from Parliament’s Fees Office early last year. Why haven’t these revelations about Laws or Alexander come to light before? Because, simply, prior to joining the Cabinet, The Telegaph had not deemed either important enough to question or investigate the raw information it acquired, which merely tells them what was claimed, namely rent in Laws’ case, but not the identity of the landlord.

There can be little doubt that the initial Telegraph investigations of early 2009 was landmark investigative journalism and did the country a great service in exposing the corrupt ‘anything goes’ atmosphere at Westminster. However, the collateral damage inflicted by this story with the effective ‘outing’ of Laws has left a nasty taste in many mouths and split many papers down the middle. Michael White in The Guardian has questioned whether the press has lost the plot on this one, while Roy Greenslade in the same paper defends The Telegraph and calls it a legitimate public interest story.

The sense I have is that the general public, far from being outraged at Laws’ behavior, appears at best concerned at the violation of privacy and at worst apathetic. It would appear that the law of diminishing returns might also be at work here for The Telegraph, with each revelation grabbing less and less attention outside the Westminster bubble.

We now have a new Parliament. The rotten apples have either been thrown out or been forced to account for themselves at a General Election. Certainly, our newspapers should remain vigilant and call MPs to account but, while dragging up information that is nearly a decade old in Laws’ case can constitute a legitimate public interest, I’m not sure his resignation and ‘outing’ serves the public interest . Perhaps it is time to move on.