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Peter Oborne resigns from Telegraph over HSBC coverage

The paper’s chief political commentator has departed.

Peter Oborne has resigned from the Telegraph, posting a blog on OpenDemocracy attacking his former employer for its reporting of HSBC’s tax affairs.

He writes:

After a lot of agony I have come to the conclusion that I have a duty to make all this public. There are two powerful reasons. The first concerns the future of the Telegraph under the Barclay Brothers. It might sound a pompous thing to say, but I believe the newspaper is a significant part of Britain’s civic architecture. It is the most important public voice of civilised, sceptical conservatism.

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This brings me to a second and even more important point that bears not just on the fate of one newspaper but on public life as a whole. A free press is essential to a healthy democracy. There is a purpose to journalism, and it is not just to entertain. It is not to pander to political power, big corporations and rich men. Newspapers have what amounts in the end to a constitutional duty to tell their readers the truth.

Oborne adds that his concerns about the relationship between editorial and commercial at the paper have been running for a while:

I wrote a long letter to Murdoch MacLennan setting out all my concerns about the newspaper, and handing in my notice. I copied this letter to the Telegraph chairman, Aidan Barclay. I received a cursory response from Mr Barclay. He wrote that he hoped I could resolve my differences with Murdoch MacLennan. I duly went to see the chief executive in mid-December. He was civil, served me tea and asked me to take off my jacket. He said that I was a valued writer, and said that he wanted me to stay.

I expressed all of my concerns about the direction of the paper. I told him that I was not leaving to join another paper. I was resigning as a matter of conscience. Mr MacLennan agreed that advertising was allowed to affect editorial, but was unapologetic, saying that “it was not as bad as all that” and adding that there was a long history of this sort of thing at the Telegraph.

As his full piece at OpenDemocracy makes clear, the HSBC tax story was merely the last straw.

The latest issue of Private Eye has further details:

On Tuesday morning the [HSBC] tax scandal was on the front pages of the FT, Mail and Guardian. By the end of Tuesday afternoon, with still no word about it on the Telegraph website, the ever-helpful Eye rang the newsdesk and financial desk to tip them off about the story since they seemed unaware of it.

This mole will be watching with interest to see which publication snaps up Mr Oborne’s services.

Update: 8.26, 18 Feb

Speaking on the BBC's Today programme, Oborne has called for an "independent review" into the Telegraph, investigating the relationship between advertising and editorial: “There’s a pattern here . . . when HSBC was being investigated, the advertising dries up”, he said.

He suggested that Charles Moore, a former editor of the Daily Telegraph, or Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, could head an independent review.

I'm a mole, innit.

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LISTEN: Boris Johnson has a meltdown in car crash interview on the Queen’s Speech

“Hang on a second…errr…I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“Hang on a second,” Boris Johnson sighed. On air, you could hear the desperate rustling of his briefing notes (probably a crumpled Waitrose receipt with “crikey” written on it) and him burbling for an answer.

Over and over again, on issues of racism, working-class inequality, educational opportunity, mental healthcare and housing, the Foreign Secretary failed to answer questions about the content of his own government’s Queen’s Speech, and how it fails to tackle “burning injustices” (in Theresa May’s words).

With each new question, he floundered more – to the extent that BBC Radio 4 PM’s presenter Eddie Mair snapped: “It’s not a Two Ronnies sketch; you can’t answer the question before last.”

But why read your soon-to-be predecessor’s Queen’s Speech when you’re busy planning your own, eh?

Your mole isn’t particularly surprised at this poor performance. Throughout the election campaign, Tory politicians – particularly cabinet secretaries – gave interview after interview riddled with gaffes.

These performances were somewhat overlooked by a political world set on humiliating shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who has been struggling with ill health. Perhaps if commentators had less of an anti-Abbott agenda – and noticed the car crash performances the Tories were repeatedly giving and getting away with it – the election result would have been less of a surprise.

I'm a mole, innit.

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