Anger at Labour’s distribution of ‘tea party’ complaint story

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By G.A.Ponsonby

The Labour party may have damaged its relationship with several leading newspapers over its distribution of a press release containing details of its complaint after First Minister Alex Salmond shared a cup of tea with Scottish Lottery winners Chris and Colin Weir.

Newsnet Scotland has learned that some journalists are furious after their newspapers were omitted from a list of those notified by Labour of their ‘tea party’ complaint.

The complaint, by Labour MSP Paul Martin, claimed that by having tea with the Weir’s in Bute House Mr Salmond had broken the Ministerial code.

Mr Weir is a long standing member of the SNP and both he and his wife had donated £1 million to help fund the pro- independence campaign.

According to Martin, having a cup of tea in Bute House may have constituted a misuse of public resources.  A spokesman for the First Minister pointed out that Bute House is a private residence as well as a public building and the First Minister used his own teabags to provide tea for Mr and Mrs Weir.

However, Labour has apparently sparked fury amongst some journalists by initially giving the ‘teabag’ story to a select few newspapers, leaving out their more widely read competitors.

Newsnet Scotland also understands that the Labour party were initially reluctant to pursue the tea-party story believing it to be too petty.   However, according to a respected source, Johann Lamont’s group were persuaded by the Daily Telegraph newspaper to issue a complaint.

According to journalists at the Holyrood Press Tower, the Telegraph was desperate to keep the story going and a complaint from Labour would allow this.

The ‘tea bag’ complaint, which is thought to be an attempt at diverting attention from the scandal over the Tory party’s ‘cash for access’ revelations, has been covered widely by many Scottish main stream news outlets including the BBC and STV.

The Telegraph’s desire to divert attention from the Tory ‘cash for access’ scandal may be explained by the revelation that one of those who attended a ‘thank you’ dinner for major donors hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2010 was the Chief Executive of the Telegraph group Murdoch Maclennan.

The post-election dinner with MacLennan, who was also a member of the Unionist led group known as the Calman Commission, came in the same month that Tory leader Cameron met Aidan Barclay, chairman of Telegraph Media Group, in No 10 Downing Street.

The revelations follow the cash-for-access row, in which Tory party treasurer Peter Cruddas was filmed by the Sunday Times apparently offering private dinners with the Prime Minister and chancellor George Osborne in return for six-figure donations.

The scandal prompted the immediate resignation of Cruddas amid calls for a full independent inquiry into whether donors had been given influence over UK government policy.

According to figures released by the Electoral Commission, wealthy donors entertained by the Cameron’s in Downing Street have given more than £10.3 million to the Conservative Party.

The apparent willingness by Scottish Labour to assist a Tory leaning newspaper in diverting attention from a story that damages the Conservatives will be viewed as bizarre by many observers.

The revelations that the Telegraph themselves are implicated in the Downing Street “cash for access” story further compounds the decision by Scottish Labour.

The episode will add weight to claims that Labour now see the Tories as allies in the fight to control Scotland and are willing to help divert attention away from stories damaging to their anti-independence partners.

It also follows the embarrassing refusal by Labour to support an SNP inspired motion this week aimed at blocking the Tory plan to reduce the tax paid by high earners, a story all but suppressed by Scotland’s media outlets.