Stephen Tall, the Liberal Democrat blogger, coined the word “trollemic” recently to describe a polemic written by a troll - that is, a deliberately over-the-top piece of writing presumably designed to generate controversy and web traffic. Peter Oborne of the Daily Telegraph has long been an exponent of the form. His column today argues that it is “statistically significant” that the six MPs who have been convicted for expenses fraud are all Labour.
“It is always impertinent to speculate about human motive,” he writes, “but …” Which is as fine a demonstration of the adage, “Everything before the but is bulls**t,” as anybody should need. He then speculates, impertinently, that because people on the left tend to believe in the essential goodness of human nature, they are more likely to believe that moral infractions can be justified by appeal to a higher cause.
Which is a speculation piled upon a prejudice on top of a non sequitur. That is how a trollemic works. “The Telegraph expenses scandal comes close to proof that Labour MPs are far more likely [than Conservative ones] to countenance lying, cheating and breaking the law,” writes Oborne. To the extent that his Tory harrumphings could be called an argument, they were refuted by my good comrade Mehdi Hasan in six words: Richard Nixon, Jonathan Aitken, Jeffrey Archer.
So of course it is nonsense. Insulting nonsense, intended to provoke people who think of themselves as on the left and to fill those who see themselves as on the right with a warm glow of whatever it is that right-wing people fill themselves with.
Left-wing people, as we now know, fill themselves with crack cocaine, crystal meth and horse tranquiliser, which is ,no doubt, what makes the left-wing Ed Miliband unfit to be prime minister. Ed Miliband, as Oborne also apparently knows, is wholly, exclusively and necessarily responsible for everything that happens at the Co-op Bank, including the private life of its former chairman who stood down five months ago.
According to Oborne, it was highly suspicious that “the Co-op used to parade its high ethical status and moral standing as an organisation that placed its duty to the community ahead of profit”. Never mind that some Tories found the Co-op’s moral tone attractive - so attractive that David Cameron in opposition tried to start a Conservative co-op movement, which consisted of a pamphlet by Jesse Norman MP. Never mind that other Tories sometimes find the profession of religious belief reassuring, in the case of Reverend Flowers’s dog collar Oborne is able to detect not just hypocrisy but cast-iron proof of wrongdoing.
Still, we should be grateful to Oborne for one thing. He draws attention to something that might be a problem. Is it conceivable that Labour MPs have been treated more harshly for alleged misconduct? It was notable the other day that Mark Pritchard, the Tory MP who is suing The Telegraph, saying he was misrepresented after a sting claiming he was looking for business opportunities in Albania on commission, was told by Kathryn Hudson, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, that there was “insufficient evidence” for an inquiry. Mr Pritchard denies breaking the House of Commons code of conduct.
Compare that with the response of John Lyon, her predecessor, who carried out a long inquiry into Stephen Byers, Richard Caborn, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon when they were caught up in a similar sting by The Sunday Times just before the 2010 election. They too had done nothing more than boast about their contacts and advertise their willingness to be paid for doing the sort of work that many MPs legally do. But three of them - not Hewitt: she had merely been “unwise to agree to the meeting” - had to apologise and have their Commons passes withdrawn even though they had by then ceased to be MPs.
Was that unfair? I don’t know. But I’m sure Oborne couldn’t tell us.