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Tuesday 7 June 2011

Conclusion Written, Story Follows

One thing that is universally known about the Daily Mail’s legendarily foul mouthed editor Paul Dacre is that he loathes former PM Tony Blair – and with a passion. No opportunity to rubbish Tone, and anyone associated with him, has been passed up by the Mail over the seventeen years since he won the race to succeed John Smith.

And the rubbishing continues, as Dacre’s finest have tried, using the most tenuous of connections, to pin the failure of the Southern Cross care homes empire on Blair, although the story, under the by-line of Ruth Sunderland and Daniel Martin, also contains the (well hidden) concession that the available facts do not fit the agenda.

The headline is unequivocal: “No 10 man at heart of care homes scandal: Blair aide’s key role at bank”. So the man concerned, Jeremy Heywood, is in the Southern Cross business up to his neck, then? Well, maybe not. Although readers are told that “banking sources said it is certain that he will have been handsomely rewarded for running the [Southern Cross] team”, the previous line “It is not clear how much of a personal bonus [he] was paid for overseeing the ... float” should sound a caution.

Another clue as to Heywood’s involvement, or lack of it, comes when he is described as Morgan Stanley’s “co-head of investment banking” at the time of the Southern Cross floatation. Freely translated, this means he was a line manager: he isn’t a banker by profession, so wouldn’t have worked on that floatation.

I can be certain of that last assertion, because the Mail article says so in the very next paragraph: “Mr Heywood did not work directly on the Southern Cross deal”. And, as for the “handsomely rewarded” assertion noted earlier, there then follows the admission that “He may have indirectly benefited from the fees paid for the deal”, which means there is no evidence that Heywood was paid other than his agreed salary during his time at Morgan Stanley.

Thus the characteristic following of the Dacre agenda: the scene is set by the headline, and the reader is effectively told that Heywood has been coining it at the expense of the old and vulnerable. Only later on do we get the admission that he wasn’t involved in the Southern Cross floatation, and the concession that there’s nothing to prove he scored so much as a penny in bonus payments.

Even the spokesman for the GMB union – who should know better than take the Daily Mail on trust – appears to have been taken in. At least the hacks concede – after suggesting that Heywood, who is now back at 10 Downing Street, is guilty of a conflict of interest – that the Southern Cross business is being dealt with by the Department of Health, and that the conflict was therefore made up.

But the smear gets printed and believed, so that’s all right, then.

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