The Telegraph's malicious 'destroy Labour, vote Corbyn' call should never have made it to print

Chris Boffey is a former news editor of the Observer, Sunday Telegraph and the Mirror and onetime special adviser to the Labour government.

Jeremy Corbyn

On balance my regard for the Sun over the years comes out in the plus column. At its best it is funny, irreverent and provocative.

On its bad days it comes across as spiteful, crass and small minded. When I see in the Daily Telegraph a column advising readers how to obtain a vote in the Labour Party leadership poll and wreck the party for a generation by voting for the extreme left candidate Jeremy Corbyn, I think of the Sun at its worst.

First of all the idea is based on the misnomer that Corbyn has got a cat in hell's chance of winning the party election, an idea based on a selected poll in the New Statesman and then, in the phrase hated by newspaper executives over the ages, someone at the Telegraph decides "to have a bit of fun with this one".

Unless the directive comes down from the editor it can usually be batted away by providing original news or comment leaving the barmy idea to wither away. In this case the call to "Sign up today to make sure the bearded socialist voter-repellent becomes the next Labour leader – and dooms the party forever" managed to get traction. The byline says "by the Telegraph Comment desk". So like most trolls and invitation to trolling, it is anonymous.

And this is nothing more than an invitation to minority of manics who, never mind the event, just want to take a wrecking ball to everything.

It is legitimate for any newspaper to write about the internal politics of any of the parties but to intervene in this way is mean spirited and malicious. Maybe the Telegraph could have got away with it if it was funny but the phrase "voter-repellent socialist" takes away any hint of humour. At least they hyphenated the adjectival phrase so maybe not all is lost at the Telegraph.

During my time at the Telegraph I worked with Conservative editors Dominic Lawson and Charles Moore, both of whom have a quiet, mischievous sense of humour and there were lots of laughs, especially at news conference. But nearly all of these quips and irreverent asides never made it past the editor's door and certainly not into the pages of the paper.

OK, the Telegraph has changed, and needed to change, but the checks and balances of good journalism should not be swept away. In Dan Hodges it has a provocative Labour-leaning columnist who has attracted loathing from a number in the party. Some hot-headed Labour MPs walk out of Strangers' Bar in the House of Commons when he walks in, but Hodges works within the boundaries of proper journalism and, most importantly, does not hide away behind an anonymous byline.

The "Join Labour, vote Corbyn", idea should have been consigned to the delete button. Or maybe the Telegraph should bring back the anonymous Peter Simple column where odd characters would come up with bizarre ideas – but to do that it would need writers who can be funny, controversial and selective.

Chris Boffey is a former news editor of the Observer, Sunday Telegraph and the Mirror and onetime special adviser to the Labour government

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.