A letter to the Observer’s Readers’ Editor

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Dear Mr Pritchard,

In Jo Revill’s article (Labour critics blame Balls and Alexander), she makes the following statement:

But there are now also questions over the fate of the Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Ming Campbell, 66, who has failed to push up his party’s fortunes in the opinion polls in recent months. He was chosen in 2006 to provide a safe pair of hands after Charles Kennedy had to resign – but he also has younger MPs who are keen to take the job.

As Brown has now hinted that there will not be an election until 2009, it raises the question of whether the party will want to give itself a fresher look by bringing in a younger leader such as home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg or environment spokesman Chris Huhne.

One Lib Dem MP said last night: ‘This election decision is going to have big ramifications for us all. We will have to take a good hard look at our own party, now the prospect of an autumn poll has receded, to think about where we want to be in 18 months’ time.’

This is spurious on several grounds. If there are younger MPs who are “keen” to take the job, they should be named, surely? Or is that merely speculation? It is also not clear how Brown not calling an election until 2009 “raises the question of whether the party will want to give itself a fresher look by bringing in a younger leader”. How does it, any more than, for example, it raise the question of whether the Conservatives might not want a less posh leader, or that Labour might not want a less Scottish leader? Who is raising this question, apart from the journalist herself?

Finally, the quote – which is clearly being used to back up these statements – is a non-sequitor as it does not in fact call for Ming Campbell to be replaced.

I have no objection to commentators arguing for Ming Campbell to be replaced, but this article is presented as news. What it is, in fact, is opinion, and one in which the agenda is entirely unclear. If Ms Revill has anonymous briefers saying that the knives are out for Sir Menzies, she does not say so. It is one thing to protect the anonymity of briefers, quite another to present it as anything other than briefing.

Is it really too much to not expect journalists to editorialise in this way? I request a clarification over what exactly Ms Revill has been told and what the Observer’s policy is regarding reporting news dispassionately.

Yours sincerely,

James Graham

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