Over the last week or so The Guardian and The Mirror have run stories suggesting that Lynton Crosby, a strategic adviser to the Conservative Party, has secured u-turns in government policy which benefit his commercial clients.
David Cameron and Lynton Crosby have been clear that this isn't the case. That hasn't stopped The Guardian running a further story today. The crux of today's story is that Crosby's firm - CTF Partners - advised private healthcare clients how to exploit NHS 'failings'.
Helpfully The Guardian have published the PowerPoint presentation on their website which is the basis for the story. This document was actually a presentation given to MPs of all Parties in 2010 – it was research like all polling companies conduct.
It is not uncommon for someone such as Populus or YouGov to give presentations to MPs or Peers so that these policy makers actually get a sense of what voters or groups such as GPs are thinking. One of the things CTF Partners do is undertake polling research like those household name polling companies.
So the very premise for the story is false but I do admire the journalism as the wording of this and other stories is deftly done. There is a lot of nods, winks, innuendo and language that suggests wrong-doing without ever directly making that accusation.
This is replicated by the quotes from the Labour Party spokesmen who always raise questions too rather than making direct accusations.
Having worked in political communications in the UK for nearly 9 years I know the process and it is very clear. The Labour Party are using two newspapers, supported by the BBC, to try and get a scalp which will weaken the Prime Minister.
A piece of information is dressed up as a 'leak' by the attack unit at Labour HQ. Interesting to note that editors love leaks. Leaks make the information more 'sexy' than if it had just come across the desk of the journalist via a press release. As I've already said, this information is not a 'leak' but a presentation given openly to a group of cross-party MPs over three years ago.
This information is then farmed out to journalists at Labour's two favourite newspapers, The Guardian and/or The Mirror. Once it becomes a front page story - a splash - then that is enough for a call to go in to the BBC newsroom to suggest that maybe they too should be covering this story. If it is a splash in The Guardian the BBC is far more likely to run it as the Corporation buys far more of this newspaper than any other. Voila - a 'leak' created in Labour HQ has become a political 'row' in three easy steps.
There are lessons for all from this sorry saga. Unfortunately some journalists have agendas they wish to pursue. In this case The Guardian and The Mirror want rid of Crosby as they see he is a threat to Labour winning a majority at the next General Election. Having worked under him on two campaigns I know what a shrewd strategist he is. They are right to be worried.
All newspapers have editorial views on all sorts of issues from wind-farms to foreign policy to planning laws and which political party is best placed to run this country. They are free to have those views - I advised the Free Speech Network to help try and protect this - but we should all be aware when seeing a story on the evening news, or as it is shared around on Twitter, just why something has become a 'story'.
There are political scandals - 13,000 avoidable deaths in the NHS is one in my book - then there are stories like this designed to score political points and weaken opponents. Unfortunately the pursuit of Lynton Crosby is unlikely to end today. When the next story is being punted around on social media have a look, read between the lines and look at what isn't said. Then you'll get a better understanding of that 'leak' and the motives behind the 'story'.