Gutsy Telegraph expenses scoops prompt major political fallout

telegraph_front by you.

The Telegraph today publishes its eighth consecutive front page almost exclusively devoted to its MPs expenses investigation.

It has been a long week not just for politics – but for journalism too.

I can’t remember the last time a single news organisation has dominated the news agenda so thoroughly for so long.

While the genesis of the story may have been chequebook journalism and the handing over of a sum of money for a computer hard-drive, the way the Telegraph has handled the story since then has been exemplary. It has used every square inch of its big broadsheet pages to deliver maximum impact on the front, and then excruciating, jaw-dropping and riveting detail inside.

While it took cash to get the hard-drive, it also took guts to run the story.

This was stolen information and much of it was undoubtedly private.

Political journalism, like all specialist areas of reporting, is largely reliant on access to people in power. This is a story which has left politicians from all the major parties feeling badly burned.

According to the Mail on Sunday the Telegraph paid £70,000 for the MPs’ expenses data.

Even if the true figure was double that, the Telegraph can count it as money well spent. The circulation boost on day one alone was reported to be 100,000 – easily enough to cover that £70,000.

Last month the Telegraph editorial team will have been left feeling fairly miffed after picking up only one prize – for cartoonist of the year – at the British Press Awards.

The last week will have more than made up for that reverse.

Journalists at The Times and The Sun will be kicking themselves that they didn’t offer more cash to secure the MPs’ expenses files when they were offered to them weeks ago.

Big scoops beget more big scoops as tipsters will see the Telegraph as the place to go with their tales of corruption in high places. Momentum counts for much in journalism, just like politics, and the Telegraph editorial team currently has bucketloads of it.

The fallout from this story provides a welcome reminder of the undiminished power of the fourth estate.

The Labour party has suspended two MPs – Elliot Morley and David Chaytor; justice minister Shahid Malik has been forced to resign, as has David Cameron aide Andrew Mackay; and House of Commons speaker Michael Martin looks like he has been fatally wounded by the affair.

The latest opinion polls suggest the revelations may even prompt a wholesale review of our electoral system, as the voting public turns away in disgust from the three main parties.

While Telegraph editor Will Lewis and his team should rightfully be enjoying their moment in the sun this week.

The real glory should go to freelance journalist Heather Brooke whose dogged pursuit of Freedom of Information requests first filed nearly five years ago prompted the expenses information to be collated in the first place.

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