It seems the Daily Telegraph’s Expenses File is the gift that just keeps on giving. If there’s muck to be raked, that broadsheet bastion of Middle England is the one to do it. Hot on the heels of David Laws’ regrettable but unavoidable departure from the Treasury, the Telegraph has now turned its attention to his replacement, Lib Dem Danny Alexander.
As others have pointed out (notably Anton Vowl on his ‘Enemies of Reason’ blog and Mark Pack at Liberal Democrat Voice) the Alexander accusations are actually a complete non-story. They boil down to the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury not paying tax which wasn’t even due. (I guess the Telegraph, grieving that it doesn’t have the unfettered majority Tory government it wanted, is working on the principle that if you sling enough mud a certain proportion of it is going to stick.)
But amid this piety about financial probity do we get a word about George Osborne’s less than pure expenses file? Or David Cameron’s naked grasping over his Oxfordshire pile? Or even the tax status of the Barclay Brothers, reclusive owners of the Telegraph? Of course not, because the Telegraph is, if nothing else, the go-to-paper of the grasping, venal tax avoider, while effortlessly accommodating the excruciating pub bore who rants about what Brown did to his pension, or the great gold reserve give-away, or how the country has gone to the dogs at the hands of a bunch of left-wing homosexuals hell-bent on handing our national identity over to Johnny Bloody Foreigner.
The Telegraph’s bottom line is that we should all damn well know our place. It paints a rose-tinted vision of a glorious British past (most likely the 1950s) where Tories ran the country free of any scrutiny from the media, and the rest of us were grateful that our masters had learned what to do on the playing fields of Eton or Harrow. (These days you can add St Paul’s School to the equation, but probably not Westminster – bloody Lib Dems!)
The Telegraph used to be fun (for all the wrong reasons, of course). In between laughing at the musty old selection of mouth-foaming columnists, or the po-faced irony-free zone of the leading article, there was always amusement to be gleaned from the ‘Telegraph Letters Page Game’. Rifle through the outraged missives from the Torygraph’s ageing readership and award yourself points for finding the following: retired military officer, comedy double-barrelled surname, Peer of the Realm – find the full set and pour yourself a brain-numbingly large Tanqueray and Tonic.
Many of the Telegraph’s readership are at least self-aware enough to realise that they ought to be embarrassed about the fact – these are the crusty old (and in some cases worryingly young) farts who claim they only buy it for the crossword or the sport pages. Well, the crossword is an insult to the intelligence, and in any case the Guardian’s sport coverage is a country mile better than the rugby-porn extravaganza of the stuffy, dull old Nazigraph’s doggedly broadsheet pages.
Is it a good thing that this most unrepresentative organ should pick and choose the make-up of the government? Aided and abetted by the other poisonous rags that make up the right-wing press, they pour bile over those elected to run the country and play kingmakers to the Tory Party, itself hardly an organisation known for having its finger on the nation’s pulse. Their interventions are accountable to no one and they offer nothing of any benefit to wider society, yet still they have disproportionate power to wield. And which politician will dare say so publicly, when they don’t know the thickness of the Telegraph’s file on them?
With the demise of the ‘Dead Tree’ press only just around the corner, the Torygraph seems to be having one final flourish of ordure-heaping on the democratic processes of this country. I suspect that they are no more comfortable with the Coalition than I am, although for entirely different reasons. Perhaps in the end they will choke on the excrement they continually expel into the public domain – but I doubt that life’s ever that fair.