Tory MP’s ‘Telegraph bid’: another looming conflict of interest

Tory MP’s ‘Telegraph bid’: another looming conflict of interest

Former Tory chair Nadhim Zahawi could become chair of the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph as he is helping to broker a potential bid for the Barclays to repurchase Telegraph Media Group out of receivership, according to reports.

Zahawi has reportedly acted as a middleman between the Barclay family and anonymous investors from the United Arab Emirates. With the additional cashflow of “hundreds of millions of pounds,” according to The Times, the Barclays have offered to buy back the debt owed to Lloyds Banking Group for £500m.

Lloyds placed Telegraph Media Group, which owns The Telegraph and The Spectator, into receivership earlier this summer and had assigned investment bank Goldman Sachs to oversee a sale of the publisher this fall, which was rumoured to likely fetch an asking price above £600m.

According to source cited by The Times, Zahawi, who currently serves as MP for Stratford-on-Avon and has variously served in the Johnson, Truss and Sunak premierships as Secretary of State for Education, Covid-19 Vaccines Minister, Chairman of the Conservative Party, Minister without Portfolio, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, would be named chairman of the newspaper group should the bid be successful, and be paid a fee for helping to receive the additional financing.

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Analysis: Wearing clashing hats

If it’s inappropriate for sitting MPs to host news programmes, it surely would be even more incredulous for one to chair a news outlet, especially one as storied and influential as The Telegraph, let alone be party to brokering a deal for its repurchase in the first place.

The appearance of conflict of interest has never appeared to trouble Zahawi, of course. Who could forget his being dismissed as Conservative Party chair after being found in breach of the Ministerial Code just this year for failing to properly declare conflicts of interest related to an HRMC investigation into his taxes?

Now, if these reports are accurate, he is flaunting those very same business connections in an effort to gain soft power over his party.

If Zahawi were to step into the role, it could provide a shock to the Conservatives just ahead of an election year. The Telegraph, which has moved ever further to the Right in recent years, would be led by a sitting Conservative MP who could thus exert significant influence on his own party through media pressure. The MP is reported to have been furious about his sacking by Sunak.

“It will go further Right whoever owns it,” Nick Manning, a Media Leader columnist and media agency co-founder told me. “It will become more extreme as they are increasingly reliant on subscription revenues and they get more of these from the rather more opinionated audience. No one buys a title that says ‘on the one hand…'”

He added, “We don’t know who will win it, but they must be favourites.”

Regardless, the broader trend is that of Tory MPs increasingly moving into leadership positions in the media during their public service. Much is made of the public-private revolving door in political science, but when sitting politicians are making such moves, it’s less a revolving door and more the wearing of many clashing hats.

TalkTV and GB News programmes hosted by Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg have, according to our columnist Ray Snoddy, made a mockery of Ofcom, and George Osborne’s appointment as editor of the Evening Standard in 2017 while still a sitting MP drew severe ire from Labour. Not to mention the “unambiguous,” continued rule-breaking of Boris Johnson in his becoming a Mail columnist without receiving the necessary permission from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

Snoddy added of Zahawi’s involvement with The Telegraph: “I can’t remember anything quite so blatant happening before,” but questioned whether Lloyds would be keen on further dealings with the Barclays.

While the Barclay family’s bid to buy back The Telegraph is in no way a done deal, Zahawi’s involvement points to the increasingly flagrant way in which especially wealthy MPs are willing to exert themselves in British media.

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