'It's not a splash. It's Balls'

Did the 'Telegraph' downplay ministers' expense claims?
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Indy Politics

He is a cabinet minister and Gordon Brown's closest ally in politics. His wife, a cabinet minister and number two at the Treasury, can also count the Prime Minister as a trusted confidant.

So when a story emerged of how Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper claimed for three and a half times the amount of mortgage interest they were entitled to, it would perhaps be deemed front-page news. Yesterday the ministers insisted it had been an "inadvertent error" that they submitted a claim for £2,600 for the months of July and August 2007, when it should have been £733. The mistake was spotted by the Fees Office and they never received the money.

Yet stranger still, this story of how two of the Prime Minister's closest allies had made this mistake appeared to be downplayed in The Daily Telegraph's wall-to-wall coverage of the expenses scandal. While lurid claims for moat-cleaning have been splashed over the newspaper, this new revelation was slipped into a downpage story on page eight last Friday.

Other MPs in similar circumstances might not have been treated so generously. Westminster conspiracy theorists last night pointed to the friendship between Telegraph editor Will Lewis and Mr Balls. Both men are gregarious and share an enthusiasm for karaoke.

A parliamentary standards inquiry last year cleared Mr Balls and Ms Cooper, who each earn £141,866, of wrongdoing in an investigation into their decision to switch their second home. The expenses documents also revealed that they were warned by Fees Office officials that they had submitted the same claim, for the month of July 2006, twice.

But one can imagine Mr Lewis, perhaps paraphrasing Michael Heseltine, declaring: "It's not a splash. It's Balls."

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