The Daily Mail took the press coverage of the 2010 General Election from the political to the personal today with its banner front-page headline:
CLEGG IN NAZI SLUR ON BRITAIN
A sub-header immediately underneath continued:
Our delusions of grandeur at winning the war are greater cross to bear than German guilt over Nazis. We need to be put back in our place, says the Lib Dem leader
That must have had the retired colonels’ wives spluttering over their cornflakes.
Two things about this story stand out.
First, the term Nick Clegg used in his article for The Guardian wasn’t “greater cross to bear”; it was “more insidious”. That’s a big difference. You couldn’t get a much bigger cross than a 12-year history of being ruled by a genocidic megalomaniac and his evil henchmen. Even if it wasn’t actually you that allowed them into power in the first place. But the idea that “we won the war, therefore we must be superior to you” is, as Clegg rightly pointed out, a beguiling one which it’s hard to rid your mind of – especially if, deep down, you have an uneasy feeling that actually there’s no longer any truth in it. So the Mail‘s headline is misleading on that count.
It’s also misleading on another. The Daily Mail purports to be a newspaper, so you’d expect its front page headline to be news, wouldn’t you? But this “story” is based on an article Clegg wrote, not yesterday, not even this week, but over seven years ago.
This is not to say that Clegg should be excused for sentiments expressed when he was seven years younger. (Actually, if you read the article, there’s no reason why he should seek to repudiate them.) The point is that the Mail is deliberately trying to stir up outrage with a sensational headline about something which has been in the public domain for nearly a decade. As The Guardian‘s Simon Jeffery says, it’s “gone Godwin’s Law” (Godwin’s Law: the longer a debate goes on, the more probable it is that there’ll be a comparison to the Nazis or Hitler). And there’s still two weeks to go until polling day.
Now, no-one expects that there was ever a prospect of the Mail‘s regular readers voting Lib Dem anyway. The most this headline might do is scare them into making absolutely sure they get their votes in for the Conservatives or UKIP on 6 May. But it’s a pretty tawdry way to behave. After all, the Daily Telegraph managed to find something current easily enough with its story about the payments into Clegg’s personal accounts by Lib Dem donors – even if it can’t make anything stick.