The decline of the Telegraph titles from paper of record, to broadsheet version of the Mail, to what is now something far worse, has been well reported, not least by Private Eye magazine. What may not be as well reported is the increasingly poor and often desperate news coverage, which appears to have been framed with the sole intention of attracting clicks and more interest at the news stand.
Nowhere was this more clearly illustrated than in yesterday’s lead headline “May heads for Brexit without vote by MPs … Public’s decision is final, says Downing St in blow to last hope of Remain campaigners”. The supporting article tells “Theresa May will not hold a Parliamentary vote on Brexit … the Telegraph has learned”.
Do go on. “A Downing Street source said: ‘The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear that the British public have voted and now she will get on with delivering Brexit’”. That does not support the claim in the headline. The rest of the article is comments from a range of politicians, together with a little supposition thrown in. That is a clear breach of the IPSO Editor’s Code Of Conduct. Worse, it is now unravelling.
As the Mail On Sunday has put it, “Theresa May will hold a 'back to school' Cabinet meeting this week during which she is expected to order feuding Brexit Ministers to end their turf wars … The meeting – the first to be held by the Prime Minister at her Chequers country retreat – will mark a sharp escalation in Mrs May's efforts to assure restless Eurosceptics in her party that she is on track to deliver an early exit from the EU and will not fob them off with ‘Brexit-lite’”. That suggests there is no firm plan at present.
Indeed, the Sunday Times has added that “Senior Tories say Philip Hammond, the chancellor, is resisting plans by other ministers to pull out of the EU single market … A Whitehall turf war has broken out, with the Treasury muscling in on Brexit negotiations - to the irritation of David Davis and Liam Fox, the ministers appointed to lead the planning”. The planning has clearly not even begun in earnest.
What most certainly has begun, though, is the briefing to receptive newspapers desperate for quick and cheap copy because their reporting resources have been so significantly depleted - like, oh I dunno, how about the Telegraph? And one name leaps off the page from that Times report, that of Liam Fox. The chosen conduit for leaks from departments Fox has been involved in of late is … you guessed it, the Telegraph.
The leakers may also include the likes of Iain Duncan Cough, no longer bound by Cabinet responsibility. Much of what is being leaked is “senior Tories” moaning that the Civil Service is holding up Britain’s departure from the EU, and the idea of “Instant Brexit” is something to which Duncan Cough, Fox and the rest of the flat earth brigade are highly susceptible. All that is needed is for someone to be foolish enough to take them seriously.
But as time goes on, the Telegraph hokum unravels further. It’s printed on big pieces of paper. But that does not excuse making up stories based on uninformed leaks.