In praise of Peter Oborne

Why can’t we have more conservative columnists like him?

I've been enjoying my good friend Peter Oborne's columns and blogs in the Telegraph in recent weeks. He joined the paper from the Daily Mail back in September, and has brought some much-needed sanity and balance to the Torygraph's comment pages.

Oborne is a supporter of David Cameron, but fronted a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation into Andy Coulson and the phone-hacking scandal last month. He has also been a long-standing opponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an outspoken critic of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment (perhaps he should have a word with the Telegraph's blogs editor, Damian Thompson). Why can't we have more conservative columnists like him?

Writing today on his blog, Oborne castigates the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, for using fraudulent figures about the extent of benefit fraud.

Oborne, who is a supporter of the coalition's welfare "reforms", adds:

There was an unnecessarily snide tone to Osborne's Spending Review. [He] failed to emphasise the powerful Christian vision of moral redemption and the value of work which lies at the heart of David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith's Big Society. Indeed, his false figures on benefit fraud helped to build up the impression that the poor are mean-minded and cheating.

. . . of course there are benefit cheats, and they do need to be dealt with. But there are also many people who do their best to raise a family and make ends meet in incredibly difficult circumstances. That is why it is important that Osborne will do the right thing and issue a correction concerning his false figures about the scale of benefit fraud in Britain today.

Hear, hear!

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.