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  • Iain Dale, Guido Fawkes and the Smith Institute

    by Sunny
    18th February, 2007 at 11:35 pm    

    Right-wing bloggers Guido Fawkes and Iain Dale have, over the past few weeks, consistently been questioning whether the think-tank Smith Institute is too close to Gordon Brown and breaking some of its rules as a charity. In fact Guido, aka Paul Staines, has gone as far as lodging a complaint himself with the Charity Commission and it is now being investigated.

    This has predictably annoyed many on the left because a Brownite think-tank is under attack. I have no sympathy for that view because political organisations on both sides of the political spectrum should be more transparent and accountable. Others are annoyed because of the implication that Iain and Paul pretend to be non-partisan and should be looking closer to home. I think they are a tad bit hypocritical, but they are entitled to be non-partisan. That is the way politics goes.

    Last week things got a bit hotter.

    Guido accused New Statesman magazine of ignoring the whole issue. Roy Greenslade added fuel to the fire. Martin Bright of NS hit back on his own blog. Where will it end?

    Will Guido end up in jail, as the Telegraph playfully insinuated earlier? Well that much is rubbish despite the mock-horror headlines displayed by some Tory bloggers.

    Last week Guido Fawkes gave his first interview on record to me (background here) and I asked a few questions about his attacks on the Smith Institute. For a start he was already aware of the Charity Commission requirement and wasn’t stressed about it all. I suspect the Telegraph simply needed a spicy angle for yet another story attacking SI and decided on the jail angle. Sheesh.

    Anyway, you can listen to that segment of the inteview below. We were in a restaurant and Guido’s dad joins up early on in the interview. A bit where GF lets on a little libellous piece of gossip has been chopped out.

    powered by ODEO

    MP3 file from here, or directly from Odeo website.

    I actually welcome an enquiry into the Smith Institute; it may indeed be too close to Brown. But all this may also herald a much-needed wider investigation into links that other think-tanks also have with political parties. Who knows, Iain and Guido may end up doing the centre-left a favour!

    [Meanwhile Guido, Tim Ireland has a question for you]

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    Filed in: Party politics

    23 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs

    1. Tim Ireland — on 18th February, 2007 at 11:55 pm  

      Gah! I’ve just realised what the problem is… I haven’t asked him *nicely*!

    2. douglas clark — on 19th February, 2007 at 4:12 am  


      Frankly, I don’t see what the problem is. It is pretty obvious that a think tank set up in the name of a leader of the Labour Party is hardly going to be advocating the thoughts of Iain Dale - who I must say, seems to be a genuinely decent chap.

      Equally, it would be kind of odd if Policy Exchange simply took the words of Arthur Scargill and gave them a new twist.

      If either took that line, their charitable donations would dry up Pronto!

      I would like to think that the Charity Commission was sophisticated enough to realise that, when they handed out charitable status to these organisations in the first place.

      There is probably a (marginal) common good that comes out of these places. So there is probably a (marginal) case for charitable status. I think.

      It is actually more interesting to consider ‘ownership’ of blogs. Guido is completely correct in a Victorian way, he pays for it, or earns from it, so it is ‘his’ site.

      Well, not really.

      To some extent Oliver Kamm and Norman Geras are ‘old school’, they don’t enable comments. But that also means they cannot manipulate the comments. Their words stand alone.

      If you have an interactive blog, like you enable comments, then you are putting a different product on the table.

      If you do enable comments you, it seems to me, enter into a contract with the folk that read your stuff. And comment upon it.

      I’d never deny your right to delete offensive posts, in fact I’d stand four square behind you. But there ought to be some quid pro quo between the owners of a site and the commentariat. That they will be treated as equals until proven otherwise might be a starting point. Something I think this site bends over backwards to do, btw.

      One of the really enjoyable things about this site is that, within limits of decency, you can say what you like, but you’d better be prepared to defend any facts.

      A deletion policy based on anything other than libel or gratuitous offence is probably a step too far. Not all sites meet the standards of this one.

    3. Chris — on 19th February, 2007 at 9:11 am  

      Is Sunny hoping for a P or at least a K from Brown?!

      Listen, Brownites, investigate away, see what you can dig up on Policy Exchange or whomever, but that would be a rather more difficult challenge than just calling Guido names, wouldn’t it?

      The main problem with the Smith Inst seems to me not that it is associated with a particular party, but rather so closely associated with and being used as a vehicle to support just one politician!

    4. Inderjeet — on 19th February, 2007 at 9:52 am  

      Well done for getting the interview Sunny but you seem to have bottled out of asking Guido about the 1980′s grauniad piece - was it difficult to go there sitting in an Indian restaurant with Guido’s Indian dad then? Maybe you realised the reality of the situation beyond the left-wing spin? Guido, not guilty!

    5. Vladimir — on 19th February, 2007 at 2:21 pm  

      Hey Inderjeet, you may just be right, but then again before spewing you may just like to read this.

    6. The Truth Will Out — on 19th February, 2007 at 2:50 pm  

      Sunny - you make me despair. Why are you so keen to keep in the good books of (almost) every camp? You’re like Nick Robinson - throw a bit of stick about but then do a ‘patsy’ piece to keep said party onside.

      There is NO comparison between the Policy Exchange/Cameron relationship and the Smith Institute/Brown relationship. The worst anyone has been able to come up with on PE is that Nick Boles used his office email account to register a personal website - WOW!

      On the other hand, Government (ie - taxpayer-funded) facilities (11 Downing Street) have been abused to help advance the Smith Institute, a registered charity. The SI has commissioned and paid for papers on how to beat Brown’s opponents. It has also assisted Brown’s top aide (Balls) to make ends meet between jobs by paying him a whacking salary for doing very little.

      It’s pretty naked abuse. Brown’s people can’t deny it so they have resorted to the hoariest strategem of all - “everyone else does it too” - and you, to your eternal shame, have taken up the cry.


    7. Jagdeep — on 19th February, 2007 at 3:35 pm  

      hahaha I’m just listening to the part where he orders onion bhajis and can’t make up his mind whether to have idli as well! Classic.

    8. Jagdeep — on 19th February, 2007 at 3:36 pm  

      The symbolism was not lost.

    9. Tim Ireland — on 19th February, 2007 at 6:25 pm  

      So, The Truth Will Out, better that we focus on the Smith Institute (and not ‘Guido’), yes? Especially because every criticism of Paul Staines is part of a Sith plot, right? Just making sure I’m digesting the spin properly.

    10. julie — on 19th February, 2007 at 10:36 pm  

      Any chance of a transcript of the full interview being published? I’d have thought it’d be rather a scoop, the first interview (as far as I know) with the UK’s most infamous blogger. And the audio tape is rather unintelligible in parts.

    11. Leon — on 19th February, 2007 at 11:20 pm  

      Seemed like he spent most of the time talking about Iain Dale….would be interested in hearing the unedited version of this conversation…

    12. Chris — on 20th February, 2007 at 8:52 am  

      Tim Ireland - are you as deranged as you seem to be?
      Are you some kind of internet stalker?
      Why the obsession with Guido?

      I suppose it’s easier than attacking any real targets though, right?

    13. Katherine — on 20th February, 2007 at 12:21 pm  

      To try to stop the trickle of attacks on Tim Ireland turning into a nasty all out flame, which won’t help anyone, I would like to say that my problem with Iain Dale’s investigation into the Smith Institute was not that it was done - fine, probably a good idea, might be something in it - but (a) that his own part of the Policy Exchange were not, which makes me doubt the bona fides of the investigation and (b) people’s subsequent attempts to smear that criticism as “Brownite” (witness the comment of “The Truth Will Out above). That is ignorant mudslinging at best, and looks more like disingenous dissembling.

    14. Chris — on 20th February, 2007 at 12:40 pm  

      Katherine - I think your wires may be crossed.
      It is Guido (real name Staines) who has been pursuing the Smith Institute.
      He is not associated with any ‘think tank’.
      Dale’s blog has only made occasional references to the story.
      Tim Ireland (hope this doesn’t count as flaming) simply seems a bit barmy.

    15. Leon — on 20th February, 2007 at 1:17 pm  

      Chris, 18Doughty Street did a piece about it which (according to Guido) Guido wrote the script for but Iain Dale presented and endorsed.

    16. Chris — on 20th February, 2007 at 1:56 pm  

      Fair enough.
      There is though a big difference between Policy Exchange and Smith Institute.
      The latter appears to be an exclusive vehicle for Brown and his particular faction, not much more.
      What research did Ed Balls undertake to justify his “charitable” £100,000 salary??

    17. Katherine — on 20th February, 2007 at 1:57 pm  

      Leon - thank you, that was precisely what I was going to say. There was an 18DS story on the Smith Institute which was presented by Iain Dale. That, to my mind, makes his involvement in another party-aligned think tank very relevant and worthy of a declaration of interest at the very least.

      I’m afraid, Chris, that you are the one who has his wires crossed.

    18. Chris — on 20th February, 2007 at 2:07 pm  

      Maybe so.
      Anyway I’ll repeat my question : I wonder what research did Ed Balls undertake to justify his “charitable” £100,000 salary??

    19. Leon — on 20th February, 2007 at 2:24 pm  

      There is though a big difference between Policy Exchange and Smith Institute.
      The latter appears to be an exclusive vehicle for Brown and his particular faction, not much more.

      You’re misrepresenting again. It’s not about which has more influence it’s about whether think tanks are truly independent and therefore deserve their charitable status.

      Any investigation into one should be an investigation into all [I'm assuming you want to open, accountable and transparent democracy]…

    20. Katherine — on 20th February, 2007 at 2:59 pm  

      Chris - who was the question to? If it was to me, then the question was entirely irrelevant to what I was saying - which was that the charity status of the Smith Institute may or may not be being used incorrectly (I take no view on that) but that the failure to disclose his own part in the Policy Exchange puts Iain Dale’s bona fides in question. I have stated this is a number of places where this issue is being discussed, and not once has any decent explanation been offered.

      Before I make my second point again, I would just like to point out that I am, personally, nothing to do with Labour or New Labour. I am not a supporter of their policies or their personnel.

      My second point was that, from a non-partisan point of view, it has been extremely telling to see the attempts of some to smear those asking questions about the Smith Institute/Policy Exchange as “Brownites” when anyone who reads the blogs of those involved (which I do, as well as many of other political persuasions) would know that that is utter rubbish. This makes me suspect that the people who try to use such smears are either (a) unaware, in which case they are ignorant and should be ignored or (b) aware, in which case they are disingenous and should be ignored.

    21. Chris — on 20th February, 2007 at 3:09 pm  

      Investigate away.
      That is what Guido and (if you say so) Iain have been doing to the Smith Inst.
      Now go and do the same with the rest - that’s absolutely fine by me.
      When you find evidence, give it to the Charity Commission, just as Guido has.
      Excellent. Go for it.
      Over to you.

      Katherine - if you want to question Iain’s bona fides and seek your “decent explanation” why not do so via his blog?

    22. Katherine — on 20th February, 2007 at 3:20 pm  

      I did.

    23. Katherine — on 20th February, 2007 at 3:21 pm  

      I got no response. At all. Let alone a decent one.

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