Thoughts from the journalists who broke the expenses scandal

I attended a talk this week with Daily Telegraph Political Editor Robert Winnett and Chief Reporter Gordon Rayner.

They are the two journalists who broke the expenses scandal to the world, and they came to talk to us about how it felt to break the biggest story of, arguably, the decade.

One thing they pointed out was the depth and variety of the story.

It went from the utterly ridiculous, like MP’s claiming for biscuits, through to the absurd but rather funny claim for a duck house, and then there were the claims for non-existant mortgages, which is in fact an incredibly serious matter of fraud. These were the claims that infuriated everyone.

In this way the story appealed to many, was a dream story to be part of for a journalist, and shocked us all enough to result in some serious consequences for our political leaders. Because of this, it will not be easily forgotten.

During the evening Winnett and Rayner also took the opportunity to criticise the way that Brown handled the whole debacle. They made the point that he seemed far more worried about his own personal reputation than protecting his party and politics as a whole.

I happen to agree with this, but it was really interesting to hear what the journalists who broke this huge story felt about its outcome and reaction.

Another thing they pointed out which rang true was the way that often it was the reaction MPs gave to any accusations that damaged their reputations most rather than the original articles in The Telegraph themselves.

Those who were criticised for their dodgy-looking expenses but followed it up by keeping quiet were quickly forgotten and their image hasn’t suffered particularly since.

But then there are those who followed up accusation made about them in The Telegraph with some loud campaign trying to convince everyone in the country of their innocence. This often only served to infuriate the public further and they have now been left as the ones with the truly damaged reputations.

It seems that there are many MPs who are unaware of the age-old ‘silence is golden’ rule.

Finally, someone in the audience asked Winnett and Rayner whether The Telegraph would have broken this story if it was only going to be damaging for the Conservatives. There was a rather long pause with a bit of nervous laughter from our panel at this. Then, “I’d like to hope so,” came the answer, with a rather cheeky smile.

By Sophie Hudson

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