Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott. Photograph: BBC News.
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Clegg hints that Lord Oakeshott could lose Lib Dem whip

"Appropriate steps" will be taken against the rebellious peer. 

After Lord Oakeshott was unmasked as the man behind a poll suggesting that he would lose his seat, Nick Clegg has just given his first response at a press conference following his speech on international development. He described the behaviour of Vince Cable's ally as "wholly unacceptable" and suggested that "appropriate steps" would be taken against him when parliament returns next week (a meeting of Lib Dem peers is planned to determine his fate). That would most likely involve Oakeshott losing the party whip. 

Here's Clegg's full answer:

I think it's odd, to put it very mildly, that any fellow Liberal Democrat should spend time and good money, when the rest of us were out campaigning for these tough elections, instead surreptiticiously trying to come up with specious claims on the basis of polls which, by the way, were entirely confounded by the election results last week.

I don't need some partial poll to tell me how people actually voted. In my constituency, for instance, where as it happens the Liberal Democrats increased our majority across my constituency.

So I think it's a great, great pity that people choose to invest their time and their money in effect trying to undermine precisely the campaigns that the rest of us were seeking to campaign on over the last few weeks.

But this happens in politics from time to time. People start deciding to take pot shots at their own side. It's never sensible. At the end of the day we've got a year to go before the general election. My party suffered a very significant setback in the elections last week. Of course we need to talk about that, we need to think about that, there are a lot of soul searching questions about that ....

I think it is wholly unacceptable for people in a campaigning political party, facing very, very difficult elections last week, as we were, to find out now with hindsight a senior member of the party, far from going out and trying to win votes, was spending money and time seeking to undermine the fortunes of the party. Obviously parliament will resume next week. A lot of these things will be taken up then and discussed, in the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and following those discussions appropriate steps will no doubt be taken.

Asked whether he believed that Cable (who condemned Oakeshott's treachery last night) was aware of the poll, he refused to say, but sources close to Clegg are briefing that they are "100% convinced" that the Business Secretary was not involved. 

As for whether Clegg is in danger of losing his seat, Lord Ashcroft's forthcoming poll of Labour-Lib Dem seats should hopefully give us the answer. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.