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31 October 2017

Why isn’t the media publishing the full list of allegations against Tory MPs?

A spreadsheet is being circulated – but the media can’t publish it. Here’s why.

By Stephen Bush

A spreadsheet of alleged misconduct by Tory MPs, said to be compiled by Conservative researchers, has been leaked to journalists throughout Westminster and an unredacted copy has even been circulated online. Both the Sun and Guido Fawkes have published a partially redacted (in the case of the Sun) and a wholly redacted (in the case of Guido) copy online. Over at the Telegraph, they have also published the list with greater detail on who the subjects are, and they are also helpfully explaining which of the accusations are already known (for example, the affair that Robert Halfon admitted to in 2015). 

So why don’t media organisations just publish the list? That’s the question that a lot of our readers are asking.

The first big problem is libel law. Proving the validity of the accusations in the document is hard and if we can’t do that, we can’t publish the document in full. As I wrote in my morning briefing today, practically every journalist has a story of sexual harassment they can’t write up because the survivor doesn’t want to go on the record and they can’t find a second source. (Even with a story as ephemeral as Jeremy Corbyn’s ill-judged choice of a Christmas quotation, I got it from multiple and unconnected sources before writing it up.)

There are, however, a couple of misconceptions about the “dossier” that I can clear up. The first is that it is not really a “dossier” in a professional sense, nor has it been collated by party whips. My understanding, from the two people who passed it to me, is that Conservative staffers have taken it upon themselves to collate the list in order to document worrying patterns and identify if there are any opportunities to corroborate the stories of others. (In the case of Bill Cosby, what doomed him was that it stopped being a “his word versus hers” situation and became a “his word versus hers and hers and hers and hers and hers” one.)

What is frustrating some of the people who helped contribute to the list is the range of accusations covered in it – which, because it is being distributed in partial form, are being lumped together. For example, that a cabinet minister is “handsy in taxis” sits alongside mentioning that Home Secretary Amber Rudd has had a relationship with fellow Tory MP Kwasi Kwarteng. It also notes that Jake Berry’s partner, with whom he lives and has a baby, happens to be Boris Johnson’s office manager. Office gossip, therefore, is being held up as on the same level as accusations of unprofessional and perhaps even criminal conduct.

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