Magazine article The Spectator

Actually, There's Less to the Latest Guardian Revelations Than Meets the Page

Magazine article The Spectator

Actually, There's Less to the Latest Guardian Revelations Than Meets the Page

Article excerpt

The Guardian has been criticised for jumping the gun last week and publishing evidence which Sir Gordon Downey, the Parliamentary Commissioner, has not yet seen fit - or been unable -- himself to publish. No critic of the newspaper has pointed out that the five and a half pages which the Guardian devoted last Friday to apparently sensational new sleaze material, complete with sententious front-page editorial, contained little that was new.

In January the Guardian brought out a book called Sleaze which contained all the charges it had hitherto made against Tory MPs, plus a few more. The chief culprits were Neil Hamilton, Tim Smith, Michael Brown, Sir Michael Grylls and Sir Andrew Bowden. Very detailed and grave allegations were made against all of them, in particular Mr Hamilton. Last Friday the Guardian repeated the same allegations against precisely the same men as if they were sparklingly fresh. Little new evidence of substance was paraded, and no further culprits were 'fingered' by the newspaper.

Take the case of Neil Hamilton. In its book the Guardian maintained that he had not declared a stay which he and his wife enjoyed at the Paris Ritz, and that he had lied to Mr Heseltine. (Mr Hamilton has admitted both charges.) The book also accused Mr Hamilton of taking money from Mohamed Al Fayed, the owner of Harrods, in the form of cash or gifts. Nothing of significance was added to this charge sheet last Friday, unless we include the relatively insignificant revelation that Mr Hamilton enjoyed a second 'freebie' in Paris, much less lavish than the first, which he also omitted to declare.

So far as Mr Smith was concerned, the paper said last week that he had received up to 25,000 in cash from Mr Al Fayed more than the somewhat smaller sums previously mentioned. Similarly with Sir Michael Grylls, the paper alleged on Friday that he had taken 86,000 in payments from the lobbyist Ian Greer, as though this was a startlingly high figure, much larger than earlier estimates. But on page 78 of the book Sleaze the Guardian wrote that in the 12 months before the 1987 election Sir Michael took 27,000 from Mr Greer; on page 90 it says he took 9,500 in the year up to June 1988; and on page 154 Sir Michael is said to have taken a `steady annual L10,000' over a long period.

So what's new? In its hysterical five-anda-half-page coverage the Guardian was, with one exception, dotting the i's and crossing the t's of earlier allegations. The exception was the serious charge that John Major allowed Tim Smith to remain a government minister after he had learnt that he had taken bribes. According to the Guardian, Mr Major was in possession of this knowledge for a few weeks before Mr Smith's resignation. No evidence is produced to substantiate this charge. The Prime Minister has stated that he required Mr Smith's resignation within three days of learning about the MP's indiscretions. There is no reason to doubt his version of events.

Why did the Guardian make such a disproportionate noise, recycling old allegations (most of which I believe are probably true) while adding another that appears baseless? All newspapers are, of course, prone to talking up their stories. Last Sunday the Mail on Sunday 'splashed' with the supposedly sensational news that Alison Foster, a former personal assistant to Mr Al Fayed, had handed over envelopes full of cash to Mr Hamilton. …

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