‘Before long every paper in the country was running my local front page story’

Brighton Argus reporter Connor Stringer tells how he scooped the nationals with his exclusive on how the Green leader of his local council flew to COP26 the same day he criticised the government over climate change…

It has just gone 4 pm on a dark Monday evening and the notorious, repetitive chime of an incoming email has disturbed me from making my fourth cup of coffee of the day.

Connor Stringer

It’s a 200-word apology from the Green leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, admitting he had flown to COP26, on the same day he criticised the government for a “lack of action” over climate change.

Proof that your journalistic hunch is often your most reliable source.

Labelled a ‘union jackass’, the email sparked the beginning of an intense week of scrutiny, that saw Phelim Mac Cafferty face calls to resign as he made national headlines for his blatant hypocrisy.

However, this story began two days before as I scrolled through Twitter enjoying a rare weekend’s break from a series of investigations.

In a typical case of virtual signalling that we’ve become accustomed to with politicians, Mac Cafferty shared several pictures of him himself taking part in the huge COP26 march in Glasgow.

‘Interesting’, I thought — ‘how did he get there?’

Phelim Mac Cafferty

A quick email to the council press office began the process of what would become a major national story.

When I got the statement I urgently called my editors to share the news, that the leader of the green council had indeed flown 460 miles to Glasgow for a climate convention.

Shocked and dumbfounded by the level of hypocrisy, we began writing the exclusive while hoping the same apology had not been circulated elsewhere.

It hadn’t and we splashed on the blunder the next day, revealing the scale of the mistake after discovering he had made a speech on the importance of cutting carbon emissions the very next day.

Immediately, the story began to pick up national attention.

First by Guido Fawkes, then by The Telegraph, who featured the story top of the website for most of the afternoon.

Before long, every paper in the country was running it. Including the Daily Star, who splashed on a rather comical front page the following day.

Piers Morgan even weighed in, labelling the council leader an ‘eco-hypocrite while praising the scoop.

This is exactly the kind of story that fuels my burning passion to hold power to account and emphasises the importance of regional journalists scrutinising political leaders.

Our polarised politics has seen a rise in corrupt, hypocritical and unethical decision making from MPs and leaders across the country.

For too long, this mindset has been accepted and has often gone without public scrutiny.

It is our role as journalists, up and down the country, to ensure these political leaders do not abuse their privileged position of power and above all — call them out for when they do.

Four days after his apology, Phelim Mac Cafferty announced he would not be stepping down as leader despite mounting pressure for him to resign.

The Argus will continue to scrutinise and celebrate the work of all politicians in the county.