Sunday, May 17, 2009

Did the Telegraph Go Soft on Ed Balls?

One of the things I have often said in interviews is that just like banker, teachers an journalists, there are bound to be a few bad apples in the political world. A reader emails with some figures which, if you accept that all those mentioned so far by the Telegraph are guilty as charged, show that so far 15% of MPs are tainted with falsely claiming expenses to one extent or another.

Numbers by party

Labour 44
Conservative 37
Lib Dems 8
Sinn Fein 5


Percentage of sitting MPs

Sinn Fein 100%
SNP 29%
DUP 22%
Conserv. 19%
Lib Dems 13%
Labour 13%
Other 0%

I am told that the Telegraph had decided to end their series of stories last Tuesday. When they got such a huge rise in circulation and so many letters they decided to extend it to Thursday. It's now Sunday and still it goes on. The broadcasters tell me that there is no sign of the public getting bored by this story. Someone else told me that the Telegraph has decided to now analyse every single MP and will continue this campaign right up until the general election. They think every one of them will have claimed something which the public will find unacceptable.

What the public won't find acceptable, however, is THIS story by Jane Merrick and Matthew Bell in the Independent, if there is any truth in it. The allegation is that the Telegraph went soft on Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper because Telegraph editor Will Lewis is a drinking and Karaoke buddy of Mr Balls.

He is a cabinet minister and Gordon Brown's closest ally in politics. His wife, a cabinet minister and number two at the Treasury, can also count the Prime Minister as a trusted confidant.

So when a story emerged of how Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper claimed for three and a half times the amount of mortgage interest they were entitled to, it would perhaps be deemed front-page news. Yesterday the ministers insisted it had been an "inadvertent error" that they submitted a claim for £2,600 for the months of July and August 2007, when it should have been £733. The mistake was spotted by the Fees Office and they never received the money.

Yet stranger still, this story of how two of the Prime Minister's closest allies had made this mistake appeared to be downplayed in The Daily Telegraph's wall-to-wall coverage of the expenses scandal. While lurid claims for moat-cleaning have been splashed over the newspaper, this new revelation was slipped into a downpage story on page eight last Friday.

Other MPs in similar circumstances might not have been treated so generously. Westminster conspiracy theorists last night pointed to the friendship between Telegraph editor Will Lewis and Mr Balls. Both men are gregarious and share an enthusiasm for karaoke.

A parliamentary standards inquiry last year cleared Mr Balls and Ms Cooper, who each earn £141,866, of wrongdoing in an investigation into their decision to switch their second home. The expenses documents also revealed that they were warned by Fees Office officials that they had submitted the same claim, for the month of July 2006, twice.

But one can imagine Mr Lewis, perhaps paraphrasing Michael Heseltine, declaring: "It's not a splash. It's Balls."

Of course one can never prove this sort of thing one way or the other. No doubt other newspapers are looking for excuses to trash the Telegraph because it got the story and they didn't. But there is a feeling that one or two politicians have been given a tougher time than others, even when their transgression was perhaps not as serious as some others.

UPDATE 3.35pm: Having made a few inquiries I'm told that Ed Balls is absolutely furious about his treatment by the Telegraph. As a result of the Telegraph story his own local regional paper, the Yorkshire Evening Post, carried a front page story on Friday, which he was forced to respond to. It should also be noted that the Telegraph splash that day was Shahid Malik, a story which resulted in him having to step down from office. So it can be argued that this was a bigger story than the Balls story.

UPDATE 3.50pm: A reader has sent me Ed Balls's statement to the YEP...

"The Daily Telegraph article does not properly or accurately reflect the facts of our claims and the information we gave to the newspaper yesterday - much of which is already in the public domain, and was included in the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards’ report published last year which dismissed the allegations made by a Tory MP.... The newspaper's insinuation that we gained financially from so-called "flipping" is absolutely untrue - as we made clear to the Daily Telegraph in writing yesterday. We are today publishing the Telegraph's letter to us and our reply.

There was, in fact, only one change in designation - in 2005 when, following advice from the Fees Office, Yvette changed her second home from Castleford to London in line with the reality of our lives and Ed's initial designation. The only reason Yvette changed her second home designation at the last General Election was because the ministerial rules changed. Ministers were previously obliged to list London as their main home regardless of the facts. We did then move house in London in 2007. We paid full capital gains tax on this move and have claimed less in the two years since that move than in the two years before.

The Daily Telegraph is wrong to suggest that London is our main family home. Castleford is our main family home, as anyone who has visited us there will testify, and as the independent Commissioner's report confirmed. Our whole family travel to and fro each week when Parliament is sitting because they we believe our family should stay together."


Domesday said...

Of course the Telegraph went soft on Ed Balls. The Telegraph is still a Conservative paper, albeit often critical. The best thing for the Conservatives is for Ed Ball to be anointed Prime Minister after Gordon. The Telegraph is doing us a great service by helping clear the field for Ed.

Actually Ed or Harriet would be fine for us: lay off them both!

Unknown said...

A nice reminder that journalists are just as interested in their own self interest as much as MPs and the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

I can't stand Ed Balls and if the Telegraph wont expose him for the scum we all know he is, then they should pass/sell/leak the story on to another newspaper who is a non-drinking buddy.

Problem solved.

simon said...

You may be right, though given the welter and complexity of allegations, it's going to be hard to establish an agreed view of who are the worst sinners.

No doubt the Telegraph has soft-pedalled on some people, for one reason or another. It seems to me that Cameron got off fairly lightly, probably because the Telegraph doesn't want to get in bad with the Tory leader.

Political Noob said...

Interesting. That list needs to be filtered by the level and absurdity of the claims though.

Jeff said...

I think there's an argument that many in the main parties committed the same sin as Salmond of the SNP by claiming for food when Parliament was in recess but because those same parties had bigger fish to fry, they didn't get a mention.

Consequently, the stats you have at the top might be a little skewed in its suggestion that the smaller parties have been 'at it' more than the bigger parties.

RantinRab said...

Would you 'go soft' on Ed Balls? (snigger)

javelin said...

He got fat - literally - on the tax payers. When I did his blinky icon for Guido I was shocked how he had turned into such a porky pig a few months later. I know understand that he was always a porker but the cruel tax payer had been holding him back. Thank God he discovered expenses and was able to trough along with the rest of the cabinet of crooks and his fat mentor Brown. Still a stretch eating salad on the inside will do his waist line no harm.

TheBoilingFrog said...

I would largely agree about other papers trying to trash the Telegraph, but in the light of the McBride scandal I'm inclined to agree with the Independent here.

The Telegraph has already proved itself to be a paper at the behest of Number 10.

Anonymous said...

And what of the silence on Boris? Surely it can't have anything to do with his status as D Tel columnist?

Manfarang said...

What has injected life into all of this is the financial and economic meltdown.No one is too bothered when times are good.
We don't accept all those are guilty as charged.Neither is the Telegraph a paragon of truth and virtue.If they thought people were breaking the law,why didn't they go straight to the police?

Anonymous said...

I was surprised by the tone of the Balls/Cooper article in the Telegraph and noticed it was markedly softer than others. I put this down to rumours of an injunction, thinking maybe the DT was just being careful and there was more to come.
If that is the sum of their reporting on the cosy couple, it looks decidedly fishy.

Andy said...

You're not in the strongest position to push this angle I'm afraid, after all you were pretty generous to your mate Dorries.

And its not the biggest story of the whole sorry mess and there's only so much room in the paper. Its like Ian Hislop said on HIGNFY, in a quiet week this story on its own could have run for a week but its maybe got a bit lost in the current madness.

Anonymous said...

A more interesting question: Did Dale put friendship before politics.

Nadine's defence seems to be that she's a ditzy blonde. This is a view that Iain would have ripped to pieces with plenty of amnunition on offer at the dear lady's blog - "Big thoughts about small things by a space-cadet".

So why has she disappeared from Iain's eagle eye.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it Balls and Cooper that supplied the disk?

Iain Dale said...

Anonymous, just for the avoidance of all doubt, I hope I would always put friendship before politics. Most normal people would, I hope.

Paul Halsall said...

Perhaps Will Lewis does go soft on his friends, just like you are a bit soft on Nadine (although those who say that should note all the posts you have approved).

But, in a phrase that has run around in my head in the past few days (I cannot quite fix it's origin), "little in the hearts of men is known to priests and kings."

I would stand by my friends whatever, and I have had friends stand by me, whatever.

All this is about fairly small sums of money, not murder.

And its cost to the public is virtually nothing compared to the costs incurred because of the the exactions of utility companies.

perdix said...

And wasn't Telgraph journalist Porter a drinking buddy of Damien McBride?

Anonymous said...

I was wondering myself why the paper had gone soft on the balls. I naively thought they were keeping the powder dry fro a big splash today - how disappointing.

I want something to take that self satisfied and smug smerk off her face.

He seems to have taken over from "Teflon Tony" - nothing seems to stick, misleading parliament and now alegedly fiddling his expenses (or cocking them up which is just as bad)

Either would have been a resignation issue just a few short years ago !!!

Laughing at Labour said...

He he, don't worry, all this scandalous info is in the public domain now and Balls-Cooper won't be allowed to forget it, especially when the limelight falls on them once Gordo is sacked.

Oldrightie said...

Supports my theory Jimmy Brown gave the cd to The Barclay brothers. That it has blown up in his face is no surprise. As for The Balls. Cretins but dear pals of James Brown.

Bob said...

I think it went soft, which is sad as he is trying to fucking ruin education and his mrs I would not trust with a shopping longer than 5 items at Tesco's.

I don't think Iain went soft on Nadine (although for a 50 year old I reckon most go hard on Nadine), just that he hasnt covered every MP.

Just covered the worst abuses. Like Balls.

Anonymous said...

I've said it here before, I am in the camp that cannot let off the "Good Guys" 'cos I find it difficult to believe that all of them didn't know what was going on. Or if they didn't they are in such a far orbit that they shouldn't be allowed to run a whelk stall, never mind a country. We're not talking about a bit of fringe fiddling here, what has been uncovered is endemic and deep-rooted - to quote a much over-used phrase - it is now institutional.

And this is where this post gets relevent to the thread. I think there's going to be another phase of revulsion when the immediate white-hot anger subsides. I think that many like me will find it very difficult to believe that the entrenched media establishmnet had no idea that this was going on. The DT has just been fortunate that it can cloak its circulation building self-interest in a mantle of self righteousness as justifiaction for publishing (and thank God it has published)

We had a taste of this when "everybody" 'fessed up to having known that Charlie Kennedy had an alcohol problem - but did not do its job until it became so obvious that it could no longer be ignored. What we're seeing now is much much worse and people are going to ask "Why didn't the BBC, the other broadcasters, the Broadsheet Press, the Red Tops or anybody blow the gaff". And they are going to be led to the conclusion that it suits the Fourth Estate to pig-out in a parallel trough in the same farm-yard.

A bit of rough and tumble and token criticism is OK but they all (think they)know where their bread is ultimately buttered.

Steven Webster said...

How could anybody think that a man called Balls could ever lead this country? Then again, this country has been told a lot of it for many years now.

jon dee said...

While applauding the Telegraph's coverage of the expenses scandal, I have been unsurprised by the modest Balls/Cooper coverage.

Editor Lewis and others, in and around the Downing Street bunker, have enjoyed some happy social gatherings and who would want to spoil that.

Even Mr McBride was said to enjoy the company of Mr Balls.

NickL said...

Iain, you are absolutely right. Some minor transgressors (£4 for dog food?) have been stignatised while other big troughers (I would cite the Keens as well as the Balls menage)have got away with hardly a mention.

Dave H said...

Time for Balls to get sweaty.

Anonymous said...

Ed Balls is the most hated politician in the land - he will be finished the moment he assumes the mantle of leader of the Labour Party in their coming wilderness years.
Probably best to smooth his path to the leadership,although the British public want a general election NOW,not when Brown sees fit (for his purposes).
As has been said so frequently on/in the media today,the British public are most frustrated at not being able to get rid of this rotten Parliament and elect another NOW - after all,we have paid for countless MP's to eradicate the vermin that seems to have been so prevalent in their 2nd/3rd homes.....
Your Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth - please do the right thing and tell Brown to resign in your next fireside chat this week.
Otherwise it may well be 2 million taxpayers who take to the streets,peacefully,to demand action.

Trough times said...

Spare a thought for 'Red" Dawn Primarolo, Gordon's Financial Secretary to the Treasury and more recently The Paymaster General (she's now Public Health Minister)

While Dawn was busy working for |Gordon in the Treasury responsible for the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise she was so busy, a local paper reveals that:

"Some forms include mistakes where Ms Primarolo has entered one of her claims in the wrong column."

And...more incredibly the Paymaster General:

" added up the claim incorrectly."

You COULDN'T make it up....

She also flipped a couple of times, but says she had no choice you understand. I certainly do understand.

Unknown said...

Have the balls duet had their expenses cleared? We should be told.

Chris Paul said...

I'd also point out that some of the first three days of Labour sleazers were very very thin stories ... almost nothing really. Like odd stuff on Woolas' ASDA receipts that he didn't even need to put in. Or Burnham and his joke about his wife divorcing him. But having only 2/3s the proportion of casess as the Tories ain't so bad.

On the Balls allegation can we also deal with the McKay-Kirkbride situation and speculate that they are getting an easy ride in the extreme because Kirkbride is an ex Telegraph hack.

Still strikes me as one of the very worst stories, if not the worst. It is just about possible that Chaytor and Morley even made idiotic gaffes. But McKay and Kirkbride had a long running conspiracy to claim virtually all their housing costs. And they don't even seem that bothered or penitent.

the orange party said...

I believe Jane is correct in the story over at the Independent. Of course they did.

The links between the Telegraph/Labourgraph and Downing Street are no secret. Just look how they tried to pull a fast one and a spoiler on Guido's Smeargate to allow Downing Street to get in quick with a rebuttal.

The rest of the main stream media was taking its lead from the Telegraph's lead priorities or rather lack of them. And for Balls it worked on the day but not in the long term.

It's difficult to see how Brown can now move Balls to the chancellor's job even if it all gets that far (Oborne has already made that point).

A few hacks were very cross about it. For what it's worth, I flagged up the Balls and Cooper triple flippers as "buried" in the latest revelations from the Telegraph and back-reported his 'previous' to drive home the point.

Elby the Beserk said...

@At May 17, 2009 2:34 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've said it here before, I am in the camp that cannot let off the "Good Guys" 'cos I find it difficult to believe that all of them didn't know what was going on

My favourite excuse is that they are victims of the system. The system, that is, that they concocted.

I don't think so...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2.41

For Goodness sake, get it right - "Your Majesty" then "Ma'am" as in ham

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2.41

For Goodness sake get it right - "Your Majesty" the "Ma'am" as in ham

Martyn said...

How come John Cruddas hasn't been got stuck into by the Telegraph?

It appears that despite the fact he has a house in his constituency of Dagenham, a mere 15 miles from Westminster, he is also claiming £23,000 Taxpayer funded housing allowance in 2007/8 and no doubt continues to do so.

JBW said...

I would have thought it was obvious to most observers, even before these revelations, that the Telegraph is not necessarily a Tory supporting paper and has become quite left leaning in many of its views.

Anonymous said...

This just confirms what I have been thinking .... that the Telegraph has its own agenda for peddling this and the way its peddling this. Cannot agree with Domesdays motive - the Telegraph are in thick with a few too many labourites.

I for one am shocked and amazed that a Daly Telegraph editor can be a drinking buddy of Ed Balls.

I am beginning to think I will never buy another copy again.

Given some of the dubious and spurious accusations made against some conservatives then going soft on Balls and Cooper is unforgivable. The Telegraph editor is at least 10 times as corrupt as some of the people it accuses.

JBW said...

Iain Dale said...
"...just for the avoidance of all doubt, I hope I would always put friendship before politics. Most normal people would, I hope."

OK, in which case I hope you would have a word in her shell like ear and tell her the game is up and quit whilst she is still ahead (just).

Chris Paul said...

McKay-Kirkbride is far worse and both DT and DC are going very soft on them. Does McKay have something on the boy wonder? Is he part of the three degrees with Balls and Lewis?

Anonymous said...

An interesting exercise would be to compare the amount of column inches given to an MP versus how many run ins they`ve had with friends of Damian McBridge.

e.g Most of the Telegraphs political team.

Would be interesting to know if this data was accessible to government PC`s in No.10. It is the ultimate weapon for a Smeargate operation.

The Remittance Man said...

Anyone who indulges in the foul practice of karaoke, with or without the connivance of Edward Cooper, must, by definition, be a rotter, a scoundrel and a cad.

What more evidence do we need? Hanging's too good for the rogue!

Anonymous said...

The relative increase in Conservative support is interesting in the light of the statistics showing that 50% more of their MPs than Labour's are corrupt...

Ralph Hancock said...

Notice seen in window of wine merchant in Notting Hill:

'No more than one Member of Parliament in this shop at any given time.
-- The Management.'

Who ate all the pies.... said...

Fatboy Eddy did..!!

Cooper-Balls Plc claim 600 quid a month for grub, she sure isn't eating much, but boy oh boy is he shoveling it away or what.

It'll go down well with the increasing number of people having to get by on £64 a week job seekers allowance to see Eddy-boy literally getting fatter and fatter on a daily basis at our expence.

Mirtha Tidville said...

The problem with the Telegraph is that they have `got rid` of a lot of the old Tory supporting journalists (they were the ones that could construct sentences and spell) and simply replaced them with cheaper lap tops.

The editor is simply too young and therefore inexperienced.

Indeed time to cancel the subscription methinks

Anonymous said...

It's the local papers like the YEP that are going to cause the most damage - provided they aren't in the pockets of the local MPs.

If there's any room in any of Balls' and Cooper's pockets apart from cash.

R.McGeddon said...

Soft on Balls, soft on the causes of Balls.

Craig said...


And how exactly is that different from your being soft on Ndine Dorries because she is a friend of yours?

Anonymous said...

I would feel far more tolerant of the occasional dodgy hotel bill or suit-of-livery-for-footman invoice if the people concerned had ever expressed any sympathy, at all, ever, for ordinarymembersofthepublic who find they have made a mistaken claim, or even, in extremis, have done it deliberately.

Iain Dale said...

Craig, First of all, I haven't gone soft on anyone. But if I had, you seem unable to differentiate between an opionated blog and a news report.

In any case, I asked a question of the Telegraph rather than conclude that indeed it had gone soft.

On Nadine, frankly, whatever I say will not be enough for some people. I actually think her living arrangements are well within the rules. For people to compare her to Margaret Moran is ridiculous in the extreme. Moran claimed for a home 100 miles from her constituency. Nadine's only claim is for her rented house in her constituency, just like dozens of other MPs. The fact that her main home is in the Cotswolds is irrelevant. I agree she could have been open about that from the start, but I entirely understand why she wanted to keep her private life private.

Alex J Thomas said...

Iain Dale said...

"Anonymous, just for the avoidance of all doubt, I hope I would always put friendship before politics. Most normal people would, I hope."

Then, presumably, if there's any truth to the Balls/Lewis story, you'll have no quarrel with either of them?

Iain Dale said...

Alex, I see you are now taking on the role of village idiot. You presumably cannot distinguish between the role of a personal blog and a national newspaper.

Madam Guillotine said...

Iain Dale said...
"...I see you are now taking on the role of village idiot."

I say - that’s not nice - be kind to your correspondents.

Anonymous said...

Let's face it, Balls is a completely repulsive character and whether or not he mis-appropriated public funds won't change that.

Balls-Cooper is a repellent, shrill and hectoring incompetent and very closely associated with the last fraudulent Budget - whether she defrauded the taxpayer as well is immaterial.

They both deserve to be kicked out of Office at the next election just for being truly dreadful people.

Gareth said...

The London home *is* their main home - where do their children go to school? Do they stay in London when the schools are open but Parliament is not sitting?

Crispin Blunt was stopped from claiming expenses for the home in which his children live.The Balls were allowed to.

It doesn't add up... said...

Balls is a hypocrite - claiming in the YEP that he LOST money because he had to pay capital GAINS tax???

Anonymous said...

'They think every one of them will have claimed something which the public will find unacceptable.'

So every one of them will be subject to the Telegraph's unique and snide interpretation of their expenses without the full story being told or reported.

This will not end until an MP kills themselves.

Journalist may also find that putting certain MPs beyond the point of return could backfire. A man with no hope is a dangerous opponent.

Ray Mallon was defining fraud as intentionally acquiring something by dishonesty. Nothing about whether they had to be public funds.

So that opens the way for a destroyed MP to harvest every allegation of journalists fixing their expenses and then reporting those allegations to the police for investigation.

For those journalists who work for papers with shareholders it could be worse as their shareholders will demand, with good reason, their expenses claims to be made public. BBC journalists may find their excuse ringing hollow.

Then there's the Telegraph itself. If they are implying a massive conspiracy of silence by every MP then does this not apply to those at the Telegraph who were there during the Conrad Black years?

Will they come forward and "tell all"?

This is just the start of the Guidoisation of society. The political establishment is just the start. The MSM establishment will be next.

MSM journalists may be having fun torturing MPs at the moment but revenge is a strong long lived emotion. Ways and means will be found to return the favours and it will be the Guidos of this world who will be approached to expose them.

I helped Conrad Black said...

How ironic. The champion of public probity against money grubbing MPs only decided to continue because they were getting money.

Makes you wonder if they are telling the full story when they report these receipts or if they are deliberately leaving out responses that cast a different light on some of the MPs.

Martin S said...

Has the Daily Telegraph got it wrong?"There could be trouble ahead..."

David Hughes said...

As I understand it all, the Fees Office do not advise on claims, only respond to queries and questionable claims ( it's not the system at fault - it's the abuse of it).
Perhaps the Balls could explain why their second home is nominated as their London one - where their children live and go to school (and therefore where they spend the most time) ?
And could they or the Editor of the Telegraph explain why this wasn't given much more prominence given that they have even slanted stories and used names of M.P.s who weren't apparently "feathering their nests" ?
It diminishes the Telegraph's position to a very serious degree and makes you doubt the veracity of everything else !

gongdonkey said...

Bravo Iain, with your comment about friends. I couldn't agree more.
I cannot remember where the quote is from but :
If it was a choice between betraying my friend or my country, I hope that I would have the courage to betray my country.
And I speak as a "sworn man" to Her Majesty and a former Royal Marine.
But , having said that, at least two of these buggers would have been grassed up by me if they had ignored advice !

Unknown said...

I am left wondering about the motivation of the Telegraph in all of this. The Barclay brothers gave us all an interesting demonstration of their views on democracy in the elections on Sark. Perhaps they have similar plans for the rest of us? What price an "Integrity Party" with their backing at the next election?

Kevin Davis said...

I have not done the maths but I get the sense that there are a disproportionate number of women MPs being targetted by the Telegraph - any idea if that is correct?