Magazine article The Spectator

In Praise of the Roundhead Who Exposed the Warped Cavalier

Magazine article The Spectator

In Praise of the Roundhead Who Exposed the Warped Cavalier

Article excerpt

The Guardian is perhaps our most influential newspaper. It has succeeded in painting the Tories as the sleazy party, and where it led the rest of the media followed. At the beginning of the election campaign, the paper let off another barrage against a familiar gallery of Tory rogues: Neil Hamilton, Tim Smith et al. For the next ten days we heard about nothing else but sleaze. My complaint was never that the Guardian publishes lies. The paper has been proved right so far. What was objectionable was the loss of all sense of proportion. To read it you might think the whole Tory party was riddled with corruption from top to toe, whereas in fact the paper had `fingered' no more than 20 Tory MPs, and levelled really serious charges against four or five. Four or five is far too many, but hardly enough to justify the contention that the British people have been betrayed by Parliament in general and the Tories in particular.

The Guardian led from the front with the Jonathan Aitken affair, albeit with covering fire from the television programme World in Action. But its presentation of the story last Saturday lacked the customary antiTory hysteria. Why paste the Conservatives when they have already been pasted by the electorate? Some Tory MPs and right-wing newspapers have nonetheless received the paper's revelation of Mr Aitken's mendacity as more of the same. For them the Guardian is the enemy, the paper which set out to bring the Tory party to its knees, too steeped in adversarial politics to deserve a fair hearing.

Then there are those right-wing friends of Mr Aitken who root around for some respectable explanation to justify his now proven lie that his wife paid his hotel bill at the Paris Ritz in September 1993. They simply cannot believe that this witty, charming and generous man should be a barefaced liar. Was he perhaps engaged on some necessarily clandestine patriotic business that meant he could not admit that his bill had been paid by Saudi friends? And surely the matter of who paid a hotel bill is of very little significance? There is no proof, they still maintain, that Mr Aitken is guilty of the other charges the Guardian and World in Action have made against him.

It does Mr Aitken's friends great credit that they should try to find some respectable explanation for his behaviour, but their efforts won't wash. The Guardian's revelation of Mr Aitken's dishonesty is a journalistic triumph. People of every political belief and of none should raise a cheer. It doesn't matter that the newspaper's original motives were in part antiTory. That is beside the point, as are Mr Aitken's supposedly sterling qualities and - if you believe the tabloids - his alleged weakness for sado-masochistic sex. The point is that he was caught out telling a big lie. Don't underestimate what it cost the Guardian to establish this fact.

It probably cost the newspaper's previous editor, Peter Preston, his job. It all began when in October 1993 Mohamed Al Fayed, owner of the Paris Ritz, telephoned Mr Preston to tell him that Mr Aitken's bill had been paid by a Saudi businessman, Said Ayas. This would have been a serious contravention of government regulations, Mr Aitken being at the time the minister in charge of defence procurement. A leisurely correspondence ensued between Mr Preston and Mr Aitken, who knew each other slightly. …

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