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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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Donald Trump's healthcare failure could be to his advantage

The appearance of weakness is less electorally damaging than actually removing healthcare from millions of people.

Good morning. Is it all over for Donald Trump? His approval ratings have cratered to below 40%. Now his attempt to dismantle Barack Obama's healthcare reforms have hit serious resistance from within the Republican Party, adding to the failures and retreats of his early days in office.

The problem for the GOP is that their opposition to Obamacare had more to do with the word "Obama" than the word "care". The previous President opted for a right-wing solution to the problem of the uninsured in a doomed attempt to secure bipartisan support for his healthcare reform. The politician with the biggest impact on the structures of the Affordable Care Act is Mitt Romney.

But now that the Republicans control all three branches of government they are left in a situation where they have no alternative to Obamacare that wouldn't either a) shred conservative orthodoxies on healthcare or b) create numerous and angry losers in their constituencies. The difficulties for Trump's proposal is that it does a bit of both.

Now the man who ran on his ability to cut a deal has been forced to make a take it or leave plea to Republicans in the House of Representatives: vote for this plan or say goodbye to any chance of repealing Obamacare.

But that's probably good news for Trump. The appearance of weakness and failure is less electorally damaging than actually succeeding in removing healthcare from millions of people, including people who voted for Trump.

Trump won his first term because his own negatives as a candidate weren't quite enough to drag him down on a night when he underperformed Republican candidates across the country. The historical trends all make it hard for a first-term incumbent to lose. So far, Trump's administration is largely being frustrated by the Republican establishment though he is succeeding in leveraging the Presidency for the benefit of his business empire.

But it may be that in the failure to get anything done he succeeds in once again riding Republican coattails to victory in 2020.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.