Press Gazette op-ed on Lachaux and Press Standards

Following the Lachaux case at the Supreme Court earlier this week, I wrote an op-ed for Press Gazette on its implications for free speech and press standards.

Key paragraph:

After a period of uncertainty, the Lachaux judgment returns the section one standard to that applied in Cooke. The publisher’s response to a complaint can really make a difference to the “serious harm” assessment.

You can read the entire op-ed on the Press Gazette website.

Quoted in the Guardian and the Bookseller discussing the ‘Lachaux’ case at the Supreme Court

I was at the UK Supreme Court yesterday to hear the judgment in Lachaux v. Independent Print Ltd and another. It was a significant challenge to section 1 of the Defamation Act 2013, which long-term readers of this blog will recall was the (successful) end result of English PEN’s Libel Reform Campaign.

Section 1 of the law introduced a test of ‘serious harm’ before a claimant could sue. It was designed to expand the space for free speech by weeding out trivial claims.

A statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.

The Lachaux case hinged on the semantics of that section of the law.  Do the words “has caused or is likely to cause” refer to real world effects, past or future? Or do they just mean that the words have a tendency to cause serious harm to reputation.

As Bishop Berkeley might have asked: If I call you a domestic abuser in a forest, and no-one hears, have I caused serious harm to your reputation? Continue reading “Quoted in the Guardian and the Bookseller discussing the ‘Lachaux’ case at the Supreme Court”

On Milkshaking

The recent EU parliamentary election campaign saw the birth of a particular form of political expression: milkshaking.

The practice began when a man in Leeds, irate at having to talk to UKIP candidate and race-baiter Tommy Robinson, threw milkshake over him.

Other people started throwing milkshakes at other right wing candidates. Nigel Farage refused to disembark his campaign bus in one location, having been ‘milkshaked’ at a previous stop.

The phenomenon prompted a wave of political discussion, hot-takes ans hang-wringing. Was it akin to ‘punching a Nazi’ or other types of political violence? Or was it in the tradition of that time-honoured tradition of throwing eggs at politicians? Continue reading “On Milkshaking”

Evolution as a Metaphor for Why #Brexit is Still A Terrible, Impossible Idea

Why don’t monkeys evolve into humans any more?

Because: they never did. We primates all had a common ancestor. And that species evolved into Homo sapiens and others of that genus, as well as, separately, into Pongo pygmaeus and the other great apes.

Monkeys do not become humans because the leap across the branches of the tree of life are too great. Their chance to be something different to what they are came and went a long time ago. Circumstance and geography made monkeys, monkeys and humans, humans.

Why can’t the U.K. be like Switzerland? Or Norway? Or New Zealand? Or Singapore? Or any other country that flourishes outside the European Union?

Because: each of these countries evolved into their current state, just as the U.K. evolved into ours. Continue reading “Evolution as a Metaphor for Why #Brexit is Still A Terrible, Impossible Idea”

Citizens of Nowhere: A revisionist history

Yesterday, while blogging about the resignation of Theresa May, I mentioned her infamous ‘citizens of nowhere’ speech at the Conservative Party conference in 2016.

At the time, those words were seen as a clear attack on the pro-European, pro-EU, ‘Remain’ cosmopolitanism that many people were expressing after the referendum shock. Mrs May, it was judged, had taken a side in the culture war, and allying herself with a narrow nationalism.

Three years later, that phrase has become a damning shorthand for Theresa May’s hostility to migrants.

While writing my earlier blog post, I read the speech. And actually, the context of her ‘citizens of nowhere’ line is the culmination of an attack on… millionaire tax dodgers. Continue reading “Citizens of Nowhere: A revisionist history”

Too Little Empathy, Way Too Late

Not much on the blog recently. I disappoint myself. When I started this site nearly fifteen years ago, the narcissist in me expected it would become a chronicle of my times, and any given historical event would have a corresponding blog post in the archives. In reality it’s far more hodge-podge, and I find I’ve written very little about the most turbulent political era of British politics that I can remember.

There were EU elections yesterday, yet I posted not a word about the campaigns or who I would be voting for. I suppose that’s a symptom of the political mess that we are in: that so many people are baffled and dismayed by the state of politics that they become demotivated. I could have been out there campaigning for someone, but instead these past weeks have been a retreat into exercise and Game of Thrones.

I suppose I should make a few notes on the resignation of Theresa May. It just happened, and I have a few thoughts I might as well publish. Continue reading “Too Little Empathy, Way Too Late”

‘That Bastard Pardon’ –Writing on Myanmar Journalists for the New Statesman

English PEN banners protesting the imprisonment of Free Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, the two Reuter’s journalists unjustly imprisoned in Myanmar, have been released.

I have written a short piece for the New Statesman, commenting on how presidential pardons do nothing to tackle the underlying injustice, and perpetuate the chill on freedom of expression.

Pardons have a particular place in judicial systems. There may be unusual circumstances where a person has indeed broken the law, but the sentence imposed is inappropriate. A pardon asserts that the conviction was correct, but alleviates the punishment.

That is wholly unsatisfactory in cases where the law has been abused, as it was in the case of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. Although they are out of prison, there has been no acknowledgement by the state that the convictions were a clear miscarriage of justice. In fact, the pardon reasserts the just opposite – that there was nothing wrong with the imprisonment.

Read the whole thing on the New Statesman website. Continue reading “‘That Bastard Pardon’ –Writing on Myanmar Journalists for the New Statesman”

Censorship and Capitulation at the Saachti Gallery

Oh dear. The Saachti Gallery has covered up some paintings after complaints that they are blasphemous.

The gallery, founded by the advertising magnate Charles Saatchi, rejected calls from some visitors to remove the paintings, arguing it was up to visitors to come to their own conclusions on the meaning of the art. However, in response to the complaints, SKU suggested as a compromise the works should remain on the gallery wall but be covered up with sheets.

“It seemed a respectful solution that enables a debate about freedom of expression versus the perceived right not to be offended,” he said in a statement to the Sunday Times.

I’ll tell you what’s offensive — capitulating to censorious complaints, and then trying to dampen the impact of your decision by saying that it ‘enables a debate about freedom of expression.’ Continue reading “Censorship and Capitulation at the Saachti Gallery”

‘People’s Vote’ and ‘Revoke Article 50’ have no place in Parliament’s Indicative Vote Process

Yesterday, the British Parliament once again ‘took back control’ of the Brexit process from our hapless government. MPs held another round of indicative votes on what Brexit policy might possibly secure a majority in the House of Commons. Once again a set of motions were tabled, and once again our representatives set about voting Aye or No to those selected.

Yet again, no motion secured a majority.

Other people have commented on how a series of binary votes is probably not the best method for weighing up many competing options. It prompts people to abstain or stick to only their preferred option, in the hopes of hanging-in-there, becoming the last idea standing. A ‘single transferable vote’ option, where MPs rank the proposals in order of preference, would be better.

But I’m not here for that. Instead, I want to say this: The ‘People’s Vote’ proposal (put forward by Peter Kyle MP) and the ‘Revoke Article 50’ proposal (tabled by Joanna Cherry MP) should have had no place in the ‘indicative vote’ process.

Why? Well, for two reasons. First, MPs are still considering how we might leave. What they need to show (to the European Union, to the government, to their colleagues, and to us) is what could plausibly be written into the Political Declaration that accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement, setting out what we hope the end state relationship with the EU will be.

Neither #PeoplesVote or #Revoke are about leaving the EU.

Instead, they are about process. The People’s Vote idea is compatible with any of the proposals for leaving the EU. It could be a requirement of Theresa May’s thrice rejected deal, Ken Clarke’s Customs Union, Nick Boles’ Commons Market 2.0, or George Eustice’s EFTA/EEA (which wasn’t voted on again last night).

Meanwhile, Joanna Cherry’s proposal is nothing at all to do with the Political Declaration. It is a sensible insurance policy against No Deal Brexit, saying that if we are in danger of crashing out of the EU then we either approve No Deal, or Revoke Article 50.

So while I think a People’s Vote and the Insurance Policy are both desirable, it makes no sense to consider them as options alongside proposals about markets, customs and trade. I actually think that the prospects for both proposals have been damaged by being mis-categorised in this way.