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Peter Oborne and the Tory crisis – unfit to run a newspaper, let alone a country

Peter OborneGood on Peter Oborne. Good on him for telling the Barclay Brothers to stick their job. Regular paid writing gigs are hard to come by for journos, so to spurn what is one of the cushiest jobs on Fleet Street for a matter of principle shows him to be a writer with value and integrity, however much regular readers and me disagree with Oborne’s politics.

There are some fascinating parallels between the pen portrait he draws of life at The Telegraph and the sorry state the Conservative Party find themselves in. As I’ve argued previously, the Tories have become dislocated from their core business support and now represent the most backward and socially useless sections of British capital, along with a still hefty but sure-to-dwindle residual support.

Beholden to the city and uncompetitive, labour-instensive sections of business their horizon no longer encompasses the interests of capital-in-general and as such end up adopting policies harmful to the collective business interest. The clamp down on overseas student visas, austerity generally, and the toying of Britain’s relationship to the EU for party political advantage immediately come to mind. In short, the Tories and the people they represent have become decadent, and now represent a danger to themselves. Before Thatcher the Tories were careful never to attack the roots of their support. Now their tear them up with glee abandon, unknowing and uncaring it is they who will ultimately pay the price. The short-term is all and everything else can go hang.

Now for the situation at The Telegraph. Oborne writes lyrically about the paper as if it was an Enlightenment salon straight out of Habermas’s musings on the public sphere. It never was, of course. The paper has always been a reliable friend of Conservative reaction. It is a rag whose rotten soul is suffused with entitlement, the defence of privilege, vicious contempt for the poor and, particularly, the labour movement. In this The Telegraph has unswervingly served its class well.

Yet there has always been space in its pages for more thoughtful conservative thinkers and writers. Because, ultimately, a paper articulates a range of (broadly) similar interests it has to have space to allow alternative perspectives and dissident voices – within a certain range – to appeal to a wide readership composed of those varied interests and perspectives (tedious Trot tabloids, take note). Furthermore as a broadsheet paper, a fully paid-up member of Britain’s so-called quality press, one can justifiably expect a certain adherence to a set of ethical standards and professional probity. Oborne resigned because the freedom to do journalism, to make judgement calls based on it was fatally undermined by commercial pressures generally and the advertising relationship with HSBC in particular.

The Barclay Brothers and their hapless lackey, Murdoch MacLennan, get both barrels. They are intent on undermining the long term health of the paper in the pursuit of short-term gain. Oborne mentions the fake ‘woman with three breasts’ story they stuck up as clickbait, but there are plenty of others that are entirely incongruous with the paper’s character. But who gives a shit as long as the clicks keep rolling in?

More serious is the claim which, devastating if true, that Telegraph journalists were ordered to destroy evidence of alleged HSBC wrongdoing at behest of senior management for commercial reasons. As Oborne rightly notes, the unspoken covenant the paper has with its readers does not exist as far as the bosses are concerned. And as standards slip, ethics are compromised, and the paper is seen to bend to the will of a market leader in tax dodging, the long-term readers who provide a stable subs and sales base are getting pissed up the wall.

The roster of political writers under Benedict Brogan – gone, along with Ben himself. The foreign news desk – gone. The sub-editors who know the difference between ‘refute’ and ‘disagree’ – put out to pasture. The paper is eating itself for the sake of shareholder value, and there will be little left after the feast. Gluttony today, starvation tomorrow has become their guiding principle.

The Telegraph‘s entirely self-inflicted woes are a microcosm of the wider crisis of Conservatism. Their kind are unfit to run a newspaper, let alone a country.

Image credit: BBC

5 Comments

  1. oborne has for some years been the best thing in the telegraph, the only man with principles, though some of the female writers remain feminists. His stance on the attempt by Cameron to take over the 2015 anniversary of Magna Carta- 6 months before the actual anniversary – was admirable. George Orwell once wrote “Some things are true, even when printed in the Daily Telegraph”. Less so now Oborne has gone. Lets hope the fall out will land on the doorstep of #10

    Alas the comments about neglecting core support and being beholden to a narrow cligue in the business community could apply to New Labour. What is happening in the Westminster bubble is a narrow focus on the media and business and a disconnect with the wider population. Neither Disraeli nor Attlee made that mistake, cultivating core support was the name of their game. Which is why they were successful prime ministers for both their parties.

    The Torygraph remains alas a problem with an increasing resemblance to the Tory version of Pravda.

    Trevor Fisher.

  2. telegraph broke the MP expenses scandal. Now to be investigated themselves? Odd things happening in the paper, and this indication of a problem at editorial level on the dirtiest of all scandals in the Westminster village needs to be taken up. Does Tom Watson MP know about the contents of this file?

    Trevor FIsher

  3. I should read things more carefully. Tom Watson of course well informed. The Q is of course whether the media apart from the culprits here know about the file. Any follow up on this front needs to be done by serious investigative journalists with the resources to do the job. Its beyond the blog culture now.,

    Trevor Fiher.

  4. Peter Rowlands says:

    I have had some regard for Peter Oborne since I read his book ‘The rise of the political class’. Only last week he was praising Ed Miliband for his action on Murdoch, corporate abuse, Syria and Palestine. You won’t find the backstabbers in Progress doing that!

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