Writing on Libel Reform on Liberal Democrat Voice

Over the weekend, I wrote a short piece about the Defamation Bill for Liberal Democrat Voice, urging activists to lobby their party leadership.  The Defamation Bill is to be debated in the House of Commons today, so it is worth cross-posting this now, before the crucial votes render it obsolete!  This morning, Stephen Tall wrote a follow up post: ‘Lib Dems Libel Reform retreat points to a wider coalition problem‘.


There is a new threat to the Defamation Bill.

No sooner had the proposed law been liberated, after being taken hostage by Leveson negotiations, than Conservative MPs have begun messing with crucial free speech provisions.

Former libel lawyer Sir Edward Garnier MP has tabled an amendment seeking to remove a crucial clause from the Defamation Bill. The clause places some limits on corporations’ use of the libel laws. It does not bar them from suing entirely – just asks that they show financial loss before they do so. It’s an objective and measurable test for companies, who after all do not have feelings.

Such a law would have discouraged the crippling libel cases brought by Big Pharma against Dr Peter Wilmshurst and Dr Ben Goldacre. It would have helped Simon Singh. It would stop the costly ‘lawfare’ waged by the extractive industries around the world against human rights groups like Global Witness. It would stop scientists and doctors from having to decide whether to speak out for their patients and risk selling their house in order to pay legal fees… Or keep their mouths shut. Continue reading “Writing on Libel Reform on Liberal Democrat Voice”

Press Regulation: Grant us serenity

My Nan had a prayer blue-tacked to her fridge.  It is by It is by Reinhold Neibuhr:

Dear Lord,
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.

We would do well to remember this in the debate over press regulation.

I think a great deal of the motivation of politicians and campaigners to impose regulation on the press comes from a hatred of its hackery, rather than phone hacking. Shoddy reporting, blatant ideological propaganda, and quotes taken out of context in order to misrepresent and sensationalise. Continue reading “Press Regulation: Grant us serenity”

Politics of Persuasion on Proportional Representation

Take Back Parliament
Take Back Parliament rally, 8th May 2010. Photo by Lewishamdreamer on Flickr

*This post contains excessive alliteration, which some readers may find offensive.

Politics means different things at different times.  During the election campaign, it was the politics of presentation:  of a leader (and his lovely wife), and of a suitable narrative that you think chimes with the voters.

Now the election is over, we seem to be moving into the politics of game-play and strategy.  The discussion centres around what Nick Clegg can force out of the tories, and how to bounce David Cameron into Proportional Representation.  Associated with this are the recriminations over failed tactics.  For an example, see @hopisen (his debates with @sunny_hundal yesterday were a good example of this kind of politics).

This kind of politics assumes an intransigence on the part of your political opponents, and it is useful to remember that this is not always the case.  At this crucial juncture, we need a politics of persuasion too, especially on the case of electoral reform.

@ellielevenson: RT @ericjoyce A near-painful read, near-pathetic, read. RT @krishgm: Guardian group feeling guilty? http://bit.ly/aQoDWA

The above comments, discussing the Guardian’s Saturday editorial, sits within the second type of politics, the politics of strategy.  But as a piece of persuasion, I think the article is very useful.

But the fact remains that victory, under the electoral system we have, means securing a Commons majority. Constitutionally, no other metric matters. If the Conservatives believe that share of vote and lead over the nearest rival should have some moral weight in deciding a winner, they have already conceded a vital point about the need for electoral reform: the proportion of overall support in the country as a whole matters. …

The Tories by contrast are confused about electoral reform. It cannot have escaped their notice that they have suffered as a result of the system they are determined to keep. It is Labour whose results are most inflated by systemic bias. The Tories insist that first past the post delivers clear results, when it has just failed to do exactly that. Conservatives have always grumbled that coalition politics means shadowy deals between parties cobbled together in dingy corridors. The opposite is now proven.

Now, I am not a Tory, but I think this sort of logic that might persuade them.  These kinds of arguments need to be in the foreground.  My three aspects of politics overlap here:  A persuasive argument, presented right, can give your cause a strategic advantage.  In this case, if the Conservative party become a little less cold to the idea of electoral reform, that’s a good thing.

There has also been some discussion over political power in the past few days.  Here’s Laurie Penny, barging in on that Sunny/Hopi debate I mentioned earlier:

@PennyRed:  @sunny_hundal @hopisen yes and no. I think there’s enough damage that only a real defeat, preforably temporary, can make us regroup.

@sunny_hundal: @hopisen @STEPearce @PennyRed I dint believe in power for it’s own sake. That is where labour is at and that is the path to hell

Its little comfort, but the politics of persuasion persists even when the party is out of power.

All of this is a way of saying, that while the Tories and Liberal Democrata hammer out whatever deal they can; while the Labour front bench has been told to keep quiet; and while Gordon Brown keeps a low profile, it would be a good use of Labour supporters’ time to help promote and grow the Take Back Parliament Campaign.  The coalition has taken only three days to amass over 41,000 supporters, which is very impressive.  However, I think it needs a broader base than the middle-class Lib Dem supporting demographic I saw at the rally on Saturday.  This is a practical task that Labourites can take on right now, while we all twiddle our thumbs waiting for opposition.

Here’s my Flickr photoset from the Take Back Parliament rally (though I think Lewishamdreamer’s photos, one of which is reproduced above, are better).