On Sunday 11th Feb I published an article here that was first written for the Guardian on May 31st 1986. The article related to what Paul Staines, aka blogger Guido Fawkes, may or may not have been up to while at Hull university when leader of the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS). I’d wanted him to explain the article – given he is commonly regarded as an influential blogger in political / media circles and extensively courted by the Conservative Party.
Shortly after publication, Guido Fawkes emailed myself and several other bloggers stating it was an attempt at defaming him and issued a legal notice to take the posting down. He also sent a letter dated 1990 that seemed to be from David Rose, the journalist who wrote the original article, apologising for the way the original story was written. There was nothing in the letter to suggest the Guardian had retracted the story. I checked with the newspaper before publishing to ensure there was no legal notes on the article or any retractions associated with it on the internal editnet system. There weren’t.
But I will take Paul Staines’ word that the original article was in bad faith and he is not a racist. I never called him a racist at any time and I never do so lightly in anycase. I managed to speak to David Rose (who is out of the country) and he couldn’t remember whether he had or not written the apology (it was 20 years ago). So I took down the article in good faith.
There is obvious hypocrisy here – a self-confessed libertarian who criticises others for issuing legal notices to suppress information about their past, while doing it himself. But the story doesn’t stop here.
Paul Staines didn’t specify exactly what was untrue in the original article. Instead he offered to meet me and do an interview explaining his side of the story. I agreed on the condition I could re-publish the 1986 article and the 1990 David Rose letter. He agreed and we met on Tuesday morning.
Except – at the interview he said his lawyers had instructed him not to offer any explanation on the 1986 article. I said it was a big copout and his actions were hypocritical since he is usually the first to demand explanations of others. Either way his only response to questions about the article was a ‘no comment’. I wasn’t happy. He later sent an email saying that if I published the 1986 article or the 1990 letter then he would sue for defamation.
I’m not going to write up the interview here; merely post up a recording of the interview within a day or two because Paul Staines broke his side of the agreement.
And I no longer consider him to be a principled blogger holding the political classes to task for their misconduct. He is as hypocritical as them, as this espisode has shown. He is unwilling to talk about his past and willing to use the law to stop others from doing so.
Writing on the same issue, Justin McKeating explains more on the legal side:
At the end of the day, this boils down to money. The libel laws in the UK are a plaything of the monied – you canâ€™t get legal aid to fight a libel action. Itâ€™s often said that â€˜itâ€™s not libel if itâ€™s trueâ€™. That is incorrect. It is, actually, â€˜itâ€™s not libel if itâ€™s provableâ€˜. To fight my case would take more resources than I have.
So we are in legal no-man’s-land. But running vendettas against other bloggers is not my style as I have bigger fish to fry.
I will end with this however. Iain Dale recently called for the ‘blogwars’ to end, and I sympathise with his view that there is nothing to be had from people on opposite sides of the political spectrum hurling mud at each other for no reason as they do in the United States.
But it’s amusing to watch bloggers on the right to point fingers at organisations on the left in the name of cleaning up politics if they are unwilling to ask the same uncomfortable questions of their own people. This is the real reason for the mud-slinging and I don’t expect it to stop unless people stop being so hypocritical.
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