PMQs sketch: Ed fights back

A re-energised Ed Miliband challenges David Cameron on the economy in the run up to this year's part

Can it only be ten days since MPs came back for their six week summer break and can it only be another 48 hours before they disappear until 11 October? This was but one of the questions not answered during the last PMQs of the present parliamentary session which has gone on for a fortnight.

Another slightly more important query, also unanswered, was "whither the economy?" asked by someone about whom, to borrow a phrase from infamous football pundit Andy Gray, "questions are also being asked", the leader of the Labour Party. An opinion poll reports that 49 per cent of Labour supporters cannot see Ed Miliband as Prime Minister. Last week he added to this concern by failing to pin the economic tail on David Cameron despite grim financial news. But he wasn't going to make the same mistake twice and with all the energy of someone who looked as if he had spent the night with his fingers jammed into a nearby electric socket, demanded to know what Dave's plans were.

Now Tory insiders say the Prime Minister didn't get where he is today by bothering himself with the detail and so it was at PMQs where huffing and puffing seemed the main answer to the newly re-charged Ed. You can always tell when Dave is in trouble when ruddy red starts to spread northwards out of his collar. Normally on economic matters he turns to his BF George for guidance but the Chancellor had been edged out of his regular seat by his side and sat slumped and silent with the look of someone with constipation who had forgotten where the lavatory was situated.

His face screwed up even further when Ed said he was "lashed to the mast" of economic Plan A despite the rapidly changing circumstances. "Not for the first time" added Ed in an apparent reference to claims this week by a 1990's Miss Whiplash that she and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been bosom buddies in previous days. George has always denied that a photograph of he and Miss W which also included some Daz-type powder was anything more than a night out with the boys -- and girls.

But this wasn't the week he wanted her back in the news over a claim of phone-hacking by the News of the World during the time of Andy Coulson whom George is said to have championed as chief mouthpiece for Dave. Even his own side sniggered as the bully was bullied and Ed sat down with the self satisfied smile of someone who knew he had finally got it right, albeit a week late.

Our representatives will now spend the next three weeks at party conferences in parts of the country most would never voluntarily visit but luckily with security precautions strong enough to keep the locals, if not out of sight, at least out of touch. But despite all the security the delegates at least are allowed to get up close and personal, unless of course you're from Middlesbrough where Labour's Sir Stuart Bell has not deigned to hold a surgery for constituents for 14 years. Despite the attractiveness of Sir Stuart's approach our leaders know they have to put themselves through this annual re-affirmation process to hang on to their jobs.

PMQs is a stage lost for the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg. All he can do is sit silently, thumb in mouth, as the world swirls around him. Now and again Labour will taunt him and now and again so will the Tories leaving only Dave to give him an occasional rub if he remembers. But even he forgot yesterday as Plan A came under constant attack.

But unknown to many in the room Nick had been first out of the traps earlier with Plan C. This is a plan to get Nick out of trouble this weekend when the Lib Dems meet to review their position 16 months into the coalition. Nick and his party Cabinet colleagues know what they have got out of the deal power, salaries and chauffeur-drivens .But all the party has to look at is a ten per cent share of the popular vote enough to guarantee a return to oblivion.

Plan Clegg said 40 Government projects would apparently be advanced to face the "dangerous new phase" of economic troubles we face. Sadly a bit of rooting around in its entrails revealed the Plan C is only a promise to make bits of Plan A work on time.

And despite victory at PMQs Ed will still have a harder time than desired when he turns up in Liverpool to mark his first year in charge. He will try to distance himself from the unions which gave him power. Particularly as they head down the difficult road of strikes over public sector pensions but he cannot yet bite the hand that feeds, not to mention the one that, for the moment, still votes.

Ironically the one with the least to fear is Dave who despite Ed's battering and Plan A still seems to be swearing the Teflon top coat he must have found in Tony's old wardrobe in Number 10. Luckily for Dave the Tory Party conference has no power whatsoever. The Lib-Dems neuter his nutters leaving him and George to get on with it. Unemployment is mainly in areas where Tories travel in groups and maybe as D:ream so memorably sang: "Things can only get better".

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.