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Friday, April 27, 2007

Honest John

Tim has already done a fine job of chronicling the scurrilous and largely anonymous bullying directed towards John Hirst (see posts here and at Iain Dale's Dairy) who blogs as Jailhouse Laywer and, on occasion, pops in comments at my main online home, the Ministry of Truth.

The full background to John's personal history is best explained in this article, which appeared in the Guardian in November 2006 - I'd recommend that you read it all but a brief summary of the salient points of John's past is that in 1980, he was convicted of the manslaughter of his landlady on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was give a life sentence with a minimum term of imprisonment of 15 years. On being sentenced, the trial judge, Mr Justice Purchis, said of John:
"I have no doubt you are an arrogant and dangerous person with a severe personality defect. Unfortunately, this is not suitable for treatment in a mental hospital."
John actually served 25 years in prison before paroled, not because he continued to be a threat to the public long after his initial tariff had passed, but because of his tendency to 'buck the system' and challenge authority while in prison. While inside he also got an education via the Open University and now blogs at

John recent came to the public's attention after mounting an effort to challenge the laws that prevent prisoners from voting while in prison - you may have your own views as to the validity of his arguments, but its an argument he is entitled to make and have put to the test in law.

More recently, as Tim has documented, John has come under systematic attack by a small clique of right-wing bullies whose modus operandi is, perhaps, best illustrated by these comments from Paul Staines's 'blog':
Guido Fawkes Esq. said...

Actually, it seems you are correct for once. Calling Guido a liar for skim reading a Google alert that arrived (late) this morning seems a little harsh.

A correction will be made.

You are still a granny killer, that can't be corrected so easily.

3:50 PM, April 25, 2007


crackers said...

Hirst you axed a defenceless old lady. You do not regret your killing. You call it manslaughter. You know it to be killing in cold blood. Murder to us.You show no remorse. You are the lowest form of vermin. Of this I am 100% sure. Stay in your dung heap and shut the fuck up. Your pretentious self serving ramblings are utter bilge. Like you, scum.

4:27 PM, April 25, 2007
Irrespective of the validity of any argument John may advance, to these bullies his arguments can be automatically gainsayed by mounting ad hominem attacks that describe him as a 'granny killer' and/or 'axe-murderer'.

Neither epithet is correct, as John will point out - his victim (in 1979) did not have grandchildren and he was convicted of manslaughter, not murder, little that seems to matter to those who take pleasure in baiting him, for whom his failure to show remorse for his crime is taken is 'proof positive' that he should be regarded as a murderer who killed 'in cold blood'.

Staines' above all others, should be well aware of the importance, if not necessity, of placing a correct interpretation on someone's past actions. That was, after all, the sole premise on which he threatened a number of bloggers with the the prospect of a libel action when evidence of his own past misdemeanours resurfaced earlier this year. Who knows, perhaps Staines' comments might not have been quite so harsh had Hirst used his time in prison to pester the trial judge for a personal testimonial to support his contention that he did not commit murder, rather than on obtaining an Open University degree.

They bullies wrong in their libels, not just legally and factually, but also because they, like Andrew O'Hagan, the journalist who wrote the Guardian article linked to above, fail to recognise or appreciate the significance of a single salient fact that is staring them in the face. One that the article explicitly mentions here:
He [Hirst] says he wasn't uncontrollable; he was suffering from Asperger's Syndrome, though that was only diagnosed much later.
The personality 'defect' to which Justice Purchis referred on passing sentence in 1980 is Asperger's Syndrome, an autistic spectrum disorder that is often referred to as 'high functioning autism'.

On the key symptoms of Asperger's Syndrome - and other forms of autism for that matter - is something commonly referred to a 'mind-blindness' - they lack a functioning 'theory of mind' due to their condition and this severely inhibits their capacity to engage in common social interactions that most people take entirely for granted.

Our ability to relate to other people and engage effectively in social interactions with other human beings relies extensively on our capacity to perceive things from another individuals 'point of view' both intellectually and emotionally. It is this that enables us to judge the 'mood' of others from their 'look' in their eyes, their body language or tone of voice and make judgements about whether what one is about to say or do is appropriate to the social environment in which you find yourself at a particular time and assess how that may affect or impact on others and how they might react to us as a result. It is also central to our ability to empathise with others and appreciate/understand how they feel and how their experiences may affect them - and, by way an ironic twist, this ability is also essential if one is attempting conceal one's own feelings, or tell a lie, dissemble or deceive others.

The 'mind-blindness' one finds in Asperger's Syndrome and other autistic spectrum disorders, rob those who these conditions of this capacity to relate to and undertand others, particularly on an emotional level.

An individual with Asperger's syndrome is typically blunt to the point of brutality in their honesty - one of the key diagnostic traits that psychologists look for when assessing an individual for any autistic spectrum disorder is a pathological inability to tell lies or conceal their feelings and opinions which is typically coupled with a tendency to 'speak as they find' with any seeming consideration for how that impact on others. This frequently results in their being perceived to be rude, abrupt and disrespectful, not because that their intention but because they cannot read the kind of visual/social cues that we take for granted as indicators that we may be 'speaking out of turn' or behaving inappropriately.

This inability to read social cues can often result in their developing a social phobia. Although they cannot 'read' the kinds of non-verbal cues that others give out as warning signs that their behaviour may be innappropriate, individuals with Asperger's Syndrome can, and do, develop an intellectual understanding of their propensity for making social errors and may be highly self-critical on becoming aware of their mistakes, with the result that they may come to shun social interaction with others for fear of making such mistakes and their inability to deal with them adequately. It also impairs their ability to interpret the actions of other correctly, particularly in relation to whether actions are carried out with deliberate intent or merely accidental; this commonly results their experiencing feelings of paranoia

O'Hagan's article includes this observation about meeting Hirst:
It is obvious within seconds of meeting Hirst that he is probably neither a monster nor a model citizen, but he presses his Open University learning on you without ever knowing that the overwhelming sense he gives is not of educated reasonableness but of chaos and vast insensitivity. This is just an observation: he makes a case for himself very persuasively, but everything he says makes you wonder whether this man is totally in control of himself.
Intellectually, Hirst may be, and almost certainly is, very much in control.

What he cannot control, due to his condition - or rather 'manage' which is better term - is his social interaction with O'Hagan because his condition means that he cannot pick up non-verbal signs from O'Hagan that would indicate that he has made a comment that O'Hagan finds abrupt, or insensitive. Hirst's 'problem' in his interaction with O'Hagan is simply that his condition renders him incapable of observing the usual 'social niceties' that Hagan expects to encounter as a routine facet of everyday life.

A little further on, O'Hagan comments:
It has to be said that Hirst has a slight tendency to pathologise his victim. "She'd had six or seven ex-offenders living there," he says, "and they couldn't bear her. She was unbearable. She stole our food. It was as though I was her carer, and I was so fragile it was unbelievable. I was like a walking time bomb. She claimed she had been in a concentration camp. She was trying to control my life and ... wanted to be waited on hand and foot. I had my own life to lead."
And a little later still...
I wonder if Hirst knows how callous he sounds. It is difficult to avoid seeking a connection between the coldness of his descriptions of what he did - "It was like swatting a fly that's buzzing around you" - and the question of whether he is truly reformed. Sitting in his living room, I begin to feel afraid of John Hirst. He would say such fears were stupid, because the stupidity of other people's doubts about him are self-evident to John Hirst, but something in him seems amoral and the self-control he often speaks of seems teetering in his case. When he stops talking about how he killed Mrs Burton, he stands up and returns to the kitchen. I look again at the CCTV showing the space outside and wonder if I could handle him.
If you've understood my description of the effect that Asperger's Syndrome has on John's ability to interact socially, then you will understand the he did not know how callous he sounded to O'Hagan and that this something that O'Hagan himself would have understood had he appreciated the significance of John's condition.

O'Hagan states that there is something in Hirst that seems 'amoral' - this, ironically, is not an unfair observation.

John is not a moral man in the conventional sense, because his condition robs of him of the capacity for emotional subjectivity and introspection upon which our practical sense of morality is based - Hirst does not 'feel' the difference between right and wrong in the way that most people does. However, Hirst may be, and almost certainly is, an ethical man; one who possesses a keen intellectual understanding of right and wrong, albeit one that would appear rather abstract to most of us.

This explains the very matter of fact way in which he talks about the crime he committed more than 25 years ago and the events since. Intellectually he accepts, fully, that his actions were wrong and that the punishment he received was just retribution for his action - more than just, in fact, in the sense that he served ten years longer in prison than the period specified in the sentence handed down by the trial judge. What he cannot do is engage with that understanding in any meaningful emotional sense - it is something he knows and knows to be true, a series of unquestionable material facts, but not something he feels because his condition renders incapable of engaging with those facts in an emotional way.

I should point out this is not to say that John is without emotion and feeling - far from it - rather that he lacks the capacity to understand and rationalise what he feels in way in which he can find meaning. What he cannot do is externalise his emotions, project them outwards in a fashion that would enable him to rationalise what he feels.

This is crucial to understanding John's evident lack of remorse for his actions, as evidenced by this exchange with O'Hagan:
"But do you want to be forgiven by her?"

"Honestly, I don't give two fucks," he says. "That might sound callous, but it isn't. Her being in the court brought home to me what I'd done. Here's someone now before me who hasn't done anything, and I was feeling for the daughter, but all I could see was her anger and bitterness coming back. She probably wanted me to be hung, but it still wouldn't have brought her mother back ... I've satisfied retribution. I've satisfied deterrence. I owe society nothing now."
All the hallmarks of Asperger's are there to be seen in this passage, if only one knows what to look for.

John can 'feel' for the daughter because, at an intellectual level because he can understand how the death of her mother would, or perhaps should, have made her feel, but he cannot empathise with how the daughter feels as he perceived those feelings in the court room, nor can he understand or appreciate how the emotions she expressed towards him at the time of the trial - anger and bitterness - relate to and stem from her feelings of grief at the loss of her mother.

Hi comments are, therefore, typically blunt and to the point and his emotional appreciation of that situation is limited, lacking in nuance and based only on what he could perceived as being clearly evident from the daughter's reaction to him. What he saw from the victim's daughter was anger, bitterness and resentment, emotions that would all too understandable to most of us but which to John, with his limited if not existence capacity to empathise and understand them and how they rooted in other feeling not obviously evident but present nonetheless- grief, loss, sadness - those feelings served no purpose. As John says himself, nothing that the daughter could do, say or feel, and nothing that the court could do to him, even had the death penalty have been open to the court - could change what had happened and bring her mother back.

To feel remorse one must do more than simply understand that the wrongness of one's actions, one must also form an emotional connection with the victim and the victim's family. One has to empathise with them, understand on an emotional level how they feel, feel a sense of grief and loss for their grief and loss and for having been the cause of those feelings.

John feels none of that, because his condition - Asperger's Syndrome - precludes his forming the very emotional connections necessary for him to feel remorse.

He can no more express remorse for his crime than a blind man can see or a tetraplegic can step out of their wheelchair and walk across the the room. His lack of remorse is neither a matter of choice nor proof that his crime was pre-meditated - the necessary condition for a murder conviction - it is merely a function of his condition.

John has a disability - although whether he sees his condition in that way is another matter - and it is that disability that prevents him from feeling or expressing remorse for the crime he committed more than 25 years ago.

That does not absolve him from responsibility for his actions. He committed the crime and served the sentence that he was given by way of punishment for his actions - more than the sentence in fact. But, as John rightly points out, neither the crime itself, now his lack of remorse, makes him a murderer or a 'cold-blooded killer' - nor, to my mind, does it justify the callous and ignorant behaviour of a few anonymous on-line bullies who seem to think that they can safely gainsay any argument he cares to advance merely by labelling him an 'axe-murderer' or 'granny-killer'.

If John is sometimes rude, abrasive, disrespectful or merely - to some - a nuisance by way of his persistence in pursuing a line of argument, his behaviour can be explained and understood. It is not something he does by choice but is, rather, a consequence of his condition, his disability.

What excuse or explanation is there one can advance to justify the actions of those who take pleasure in hounding him. Those who are rude, disrespectful and abusive towards him by concious choice?

None whatsoever.

Those who refuse to engage with John by way of intellectual argument, who choose not to address his comments, consider the points he advances and challenge his opinions are not just cowards and bullies but the kind of bullies who - by their consciously chosen behaviour and attitudes - would seem to think nothing of persecuting a physically disabled man by kicking his crutches our from under him.

That is what the character of their behaviour amounts to. The abuse they direct towards John is directed towards his condition, his disability, and ignorance, in this case, is no excuse. The bullies cannot claim to be unaware of his condition, it is there referenced in black and white in Andrew O'Hagan's article, and any of them who might claim not to have read that article, who may have joined in the hounding of John Hirst simply to 'follow the crowd', they are the kind of ignorant scumbags whose conduct is beneath even contempt. Which is worse, the bully who 'kicks a cripple' because they can, because their victim cannot fight back, or the bully who joins in just to be part of the crowd?

John Hirst may have killed a woman, more than twenty-five years ago and spent most of his adult life in prison as a result - but he is still a better man than any of those cowards and bullies (male or female) could ever aspire to be.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Paul Staines is a fact-murderer!

Paul Staines has been caught playing fast and loose with the facts again... and again about Lord Levy.

For Those Who Came in Late #1: 'Guido Fawkes' declaring live on Newsnight that Levy will face trial.

In the original version of this post from Wednesday, 'Guido' declared that "this morning's papers are speculating about charges being placed", but when he was put on the spot about that, all he could dig up was one newspaper speculating about it. On Sunday. He also declared that the police were staying very close to Lord Levy and suggested very heavily that it wasn't necessarily for his protection.

When the possibility that these claims were somewhat inaccurate arose in comments, there was usual fuss and bluster involving both 'Guido' and some helpful sock-puppets, the basic gist of which was; "The almighty Guido is always right and you're wrong, so fuck off."

For Those Who Came in Late #2: You'll want to watch this alternative take of 'Guido Fawkes' on Newsnight.

But then... *gasp*... 'Guido' finally had to admit that he had made an error! To John Hirst no less!

For Those Who Came in Late #3: How the anonymous bullies who hang out with Dale/Staines like to avoid/undermine any point John Hirst raises by shouting "Axe murderer!" at him.

Take a look at Staines' comment and the anonymous comment that followed it:

Guido Fawkes Esq. said...

Actually, it seems you are correct for once. Calling Guido a liar for skim reading a Google alert that arrived (late) this morning seems a little harsh.

A correction will be made.

You are still a granny killer, that can't be corrected so easily.

3:50 PM, April 25, 2007


crackers said...

Hirst you axed a defenceless old lady. You do not regret your killing. You call it manslaughter. You know it to be killing in cold blood. Murder to us.You show no remorse. You are the lowest form of vermin. Of this I am 100% sure. Stay in your dung heap and shut the fuck up. Your pretentious self serving ramblings are utter bilge. Like you, scum.

4:27 PM, April 25, 2007

That second comment is worth including here because it follows to the letter the 'logic' behind calling someone convicted of manslaughter a murderer as outlined in this post. It's also worth noting that 'Guido' admits to deleting 50+ comments from this thread (see #5 below) but he thought that this one was worth keeping.

Now, onto Staines' comment:

1. In his post he claims to be doing research on Levy for an upcoming book. Under comments he claims that he only skimmed a Google alert about the subject of his book. Please raise your hand if you're buying it.

2. You are not on solid ground if you respond to a valid argument by screaming "Axe murderer!" at your opponent.

3. John Hirst (who really should try to avoid using sock-puppets for any reason, as it simply adds to the confusion) points out here that "there is no public record of my victim being a grandmother"... so, in trying to draw attention away from one glaring inaccuracy, 'Guido' has blurted out another!

4. But at least Paul Staines had the courage to do this himself instead of saying it via a sock-puppet... but we also have the far more passionate and detailed anonymous comment that followed to consider. When you rely heavily on sock-puppets to do your dirty work for you and they appear at just the right time with startling regularity, you only have yourself to blame when people suspect that you're a sock-puppeting loser who spends a great deal of time anonymously shouting down opponents and/or patting yourself on the back.

5. At the request of (ahem) an anonymous contributor, Staines closed comments at midnight and deleted "fifty or so" comments that pointed out what an arse he had been 'bored' him. Way to maintain that Fonzie-like demeanour, Paul.

So, the post has been updated, and comments have been closed. That's the end of it, right?

Well, no.

The updated version of the offending post still contains the following passage:

Guido is also working on another book, with the working title "The Trial of Lord Levy", for publication, on the advice of lawyers, after the verdict.

Verdict? You what? I think Paul will want to have another word with his lawyers.

One cannot have a verdict without a trial... and a trial generally doesn't take place until charges have been brought. To date, no charges have been brought against Lord Levy.

Just as he did on Newsnight, Paul Staines has again presented this possibility as a certainty. He'll want to watch it with that wishful thinking.


Guest Post: Staines and Hain - The Wonder Years

Much hilarity over on Guido's blog this week as our fearless watchdog of public morality catches Peter Hain, candidate for deputy leader of the Labour Party, bang to rights.

Here's what Hain plans to do in the first 100 days of a new Labour government.

"By the Monday, after polling, the new government should be launching the next phase: the first 100 days during which it must stamp a new approach on the nation.Exchange controls will need to be quickly imposed with new powers over foreign capital movements. All financial institutions and companies should be required to halt new investment overseas. The pension funds and other financial institutions should be required to purchase government stocks to fund a massive expansion of a rejuvenated National Enterprise Board. Immediate import controls should be imposed, pending full negotiations in the context of planned trade and planning agreements. Privatisation of British Telecom should be reversed......price controls should also figure during these first 100 days....It is essential to involve the unions directly over decisions in all economic activities etc etc

Shocking stuff, we're sure you'll agree, particularly if your a rabid libertarian with a thing for offshore investments and a flexible attitude towards taxation.

The trouble is, Hain's manifesto was written in 1983.

Of course, we've all done silly things when young. We'd like to tell you the silly things Paul Staines got up to when he was at university in 1986 but the last time we tried everyone's favourite libertarian champion of freedom of speech reached for his lawyer.

After their youthful hijinks, however, the similarities between our two heroes end.

Hain, needless to say, has long since disavowed the naive attitudes of his youth. A "political journey" he calls it. A euphemism which means he now votes for Apartheid-esque policies like house arrest instead of protesting against them as he used to.

Staines however is still the staunch anti-racist as he was in his younger years as his tolerance of characters such as 'little black sambo' in his comment threads testifies. We've yet to see him modify his views on taxation either.

Still, you can see why Staines would feel superior to the hapless Hain. Hain is fighting to be deputy leader of the Labour Party. Paul Staines blogs about Gordon Brown picking his nose.

(This is a guest post by Justin McKeating. You may remember him from such blogs such as Chicken Yoghurt and Iain Dale's Dairy)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Comment moderation policy

The overtly satirical aspect of this weblog has now wound down to the point where it makes no sense to continue to mimic Paul Staines' seemingly random comment moderation policy and/or those who help him to abuse his self-serving approach to online discussion.

The comment moderation policy on this site is from this point forward to be the same as that at Iain Dale's Dairy:

  1. Only registered users of will be allowed to post comments.
  2. Comment moderation will be on full-time, and all comments will be read by a moderator prior to publication (or deletion).
  3. The new version of does not allow for editing of comments, so we will be forced to delete any insulting or abusive comments outright. If ever a situation arises where a comment includes insults/abuse and constructive/intelligent input, the onus will be on the relevant contributor to repeat their comment (minus the insults/abuse).
  4. As the majority of comments will be moderated in their pre-publication state, not all deletions will be noted/apparent (i.e. no 'removed by a blog administrator' notice will appear). It should be taken as a given that any comment deleted was deleted in line with this policy. If we feel there may be some confusion or if a reason is requested, an explanation will be given.
  5. Any libellous comments will be deleted as soon as our attention is drawn to them. Please note that proof, either for or against, may be requested in order to substantiate the complaint.
  6. Sock-puppetry and astro-turfing will not be tolerated. IP addresses will be tracked if we suspect either, and we reserve the right to 'out' repeat offenders.
  7. The decision of the editorial team is final. You may plead your case by email and we are open to debate, but there will be no free-for-all in the comments.

Cheers all.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Precious Iain Dale Launches Video Advertising on Blogs

Some of you may have choked back vomit after seeing videos playing across the blogosphere starring Iain Dale.

In the video advertisement launching GuidoSpace's new lickspittle-generated "Lite" advertising service he nauseatingly demonstrates two ways of advertising on Iain Dale. Press play to play with yourself.

Guido should declare an interest in that his legal bills (and a little bit more) are paid by GuidoSpace.

Rumour has it my very own parliamentary tea-boy is to star in the next video advert!

Hat-Tip: Guido 1.0

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

David Cameron's attack dog

Having just read Unity's demolition of Paul Staines' recent propaganda drive, I got thinking as to the nature of the Guido site's role within the Tory online operation.

Unity has clearly outlined some of Staines' salacious techniques, and exposed his use of evocation to project an air of scandal around Gordon Brown's relationship with the Smith Institute. But why is Staines spending so much time trying to set-up his ruse, especially when the evidence he draws upon is so tenuous?

As Unity has ably proven, the evidence Staines uses to further his conspiracy does not hold up to scrutiny, so clearly Staines is looking for something that may or may not be there. This leads me to one question: What came first… the 'evidence' or the conspiracy theory?

Is Staines just so desperate to find dirt on Brown that he'll concoct a story even if there is no conclusive proof?

Did one of Staines' "co-conspirators" send him documents that suggest Brown's relationship with the Smith Institute is in someway improper, or is Staines just hoping to sling enough dirt to sully the Chancellor's reputation prior to his expected premiership?

It’s strange how this attack by Staines seems to be coordinated with a concerted Tory front to hold the chancellor's toes to the fire over the current pensions outcry. But surely that’s just a coincidence, isn’t it?

The charges Staines alludes to on his blog are unsubstantiated, this we know, so one presumes Staines is doing the dirty work of The Conservative Party. After all, there is no way that Tory MPs could make such baseless accusations (such are the rules in the Commons), so what they'd need would be a medium that is dislocated from the official parliamentary rule book. Staines is also keen, at every possible opportunity, to remind those who read his blog that his blog is hosted in the States, a feature that offers him some cover from UK libel (although this is oft overplayed).

How much coordination Staines has with the official Tory apparatus is unclear, but a few minutes reading Francis Maude's contribution to Precious Iain Dale's Guide to political Blogging (he's a blogging expert, you know?), and you’re aware how important the party considers its premier bloggers. But the Nazis, I presume, loved their attack dogs too…

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Monday, April 16, 2007

You say 'pollster', I say propaganda...

This is my first proper article for Guido 2.0 (also posted over at my usual 'hunting ground', the Ministry of Truth) to which I'll be contributing as and when I find the time (and Paul Staines is up to something that particularly piques my interest). As should, hopefully, be clear from my brief 'hello world' post, my real interest lies in the nature and use of spin and propaganda, which means that most of what I post here is likely to be directed towards deconstructing and debunking Staines' incessant stream of political innuendo - showing you exactly how he bends the truth to advance his personal/political agenda.

For this article my focus will be three recent posts by Staines all of which relate to a market research company called Opinion Leader Research, of which the joint Chief-Executive is one Deborah Mattinson, who Staines describes as 'Gordon's personal pollster'. What I will be doing is fisking each of these three posts to show both where Staines has made basic errors of fact and where he has (deliberately) misrepresented certain matters in order to paint a picture of possible 'corruption' without the slightest shred of evidence to support such innuendos.

So let's start at the beginning with this post from 26th Feb 2007:

Smith Institute's Mattinson Spins Poll for Brown

The Brownites are obviously getting increasingly desperate about his bad personal poll ratings versus Cameron. The Guardian/ICM survey last week showing Brown 13% adrift of Cameron (worse than Blair) shook Labour MPs at a vital time and led to renewed calls for Labour to skip a generation with Miliband.

A week later comes the Brownite response, today's Guardian reports on a survey of a hundred "opinion leaders" which shows Gordon outperforming Dave on a whole range of indicators - scoring a modest 92% on integrity.

Okay, that's fine so far - all factually correct if somewhat meaningless - comparing a public opinion poll to a survey of 100 'opinion leaders' is something of an 'apples and oranges' comparison, which would be a fair point to make - but then fair points are hardly Staines' style.

Who conducted this highly scientific "survey"? None other than Opinion Leader Research run by Deborah Mattinson, the long time Labour Party consultant who is now Gordon Brown's unofficial pollster and sits on the advisory committee of the Smith Institute - alongside the veteran U.S. pollster Bob Shrum. It was Shrum's anti-Cameron advice to the Sith that forced the Charity Commission's official investigation. Guido wonders why a non-partisan, non-political, educational charity has so many pollsters involved?

Mattinson does, indeed, sit on the advisory committee of the Smith Institute, as do 12 other people including Lord Whitty - now of the National Consumer Council but once the General Secretary of the Labour Party - Polly Toynbee of the Guardian and several academics...

...but not Bob Schrum, who is actually a research fellow at the Smith Institute and not a member of the advisory committee at all.

This paragraph also introduces what you will soon see is a standard theme of Staines' posts about Mattinson and OLR, in which he refers to both as 'pollsters'.

This, certainly in the case of OLR, is deliberate and misleading spin.

What does 'Pollster' mean to you? To many, if not most people it implies the kind of telephone survey-based political opinion polls that one gets bombarded with in the press, especially in the run to an election - the kind that asked people how they intend to vote or what they think of particular government policy. Indeed that's exactly what Staines wants people to think because that would raise genuine questions about quite why the Smith Institute would have such a company involved in its work.

Look, however, at what OLR actually does - for which one simply has to visit its website - and one finds that very little of its work is survey-based and/or relates to questions of public/political opinion. Like most market research companies it offers a wide range of research services including focus group studies and even citizen juries - services that are clearly relevant to a non-partisan, non-political, educational charity that carries out research into matters of public policy.

'Pollster' is no where near being close to adequate describing the full scope of OLR's work and is used by Staines to promote a deliberately narrow view of its activities of a kind that aims to mislead his readers into thinking that a company that carries out a wide range of research for clients using techniques that are applicable to many different areas of research does nothing more than surveys of political opinion that are limited application to the government. This, if one looks at OLRs portfolio of clients/research is anything but the case.

Mattinson has plenty of previous, she was wheeled out by the dark forces of the Sith the last time Brown's negative ratings caused rumblings. Popping up in the Times with an article claiming, ironically, that it was all spin and that Gordon is in fact a popular guy.

Of course surveying "opinion leaders" is completely subjective and easily manipulated to give the required answers. Mattinson's clients know it, but since her clients include Defra, the Department of Education and Science, the Department for Work and Pensions and coincidentally HM Treasury, you can be sure she knows where her bread is buttered and what they want to hear.

Most if not all forms of research can be readily manipulated to produce specific outcomes by a wide range of methods from how the research is constructed and carried out to how the results are interpreted and presented - in fact there is a massive body of literature in the sciences and social sciences on just this subject. The fact that research can easily be biased towards a particular outcome proves nothing without evidence to show a particular piece of research actually is biased.

What Staines fails to show here is any evidence that would support an assertion that OLR is producing, or has produced, deliberately biased or misleading research for, or on behalf of, its clients - there is no substance to his claims here, merely innuendo of a kind that one could level at any market research company working for any client at any time if one disapproves of the client or disagrees with the outcome of the research. It's the stuff of conspiraloons and tinfoil helmets, which is entirely appropriate for Staines' website as it does at least demonstrate that he knows his audience - he is writing primarily for people whose inclination is to believe the worst of the government irrespective of whether there is any evidence to back up such assertions and feeding them exactly what they want to hear. Whether there is any evidence to back his claims is, at best, a secondary consideration and more often than not a complete irrelevance.

Anyone with any common sense, of course, would ask to see some concrete evidence before accepting that such a claim is anything other than a bit of 'smoke and mirrors' propaganda, especially when faced with such an obvious straw man argument.

Is Guido the only one who has noticed that in times of need, Gordon's pollster conducts polls with dubious methodologies which she then writes up in hagiographical pro-Gordon articles?

Well that's really up to Mattinson to decide whether to do that kind of research and write those kinds of articles, for newspaper editors to decide whether to publish the results of her polls and the readers of those newspapers to decide how much credence to give them - is there any material difference between Mattinson talking up Brown and the Telegraph talking up Cameron or are most of us well aware of where the print media's various political biases lie and take pretty much everything with a pinch of salt. Again we have innuendo but no evidence to support the assertion.

Is Guido the only one who thinks there might, in the circumstances, be a serious conflict of interest in her not only sitting on the board of the Smith Institute but also having HM Treasury as a paying client? Who commissioned and paid for this survey of "opinion leaders"? How did she get the HM Treasury contract? Was it by competitive tender?

One quick error of fact to correct - Mattinson doesn't sit on the Smith Institute's board, she's a member of an advisory committee, which is a very different thing.

As for whether or not a conflict of interest exists if and when OLR tenders for government contracts, well yes the potential does exist but then it always exists whenever anyone with an association with a party in government tenders for a government contract. That's why governments have stringent tendering procedures to prevent such conflicts influencing decisions and everything from the National Audit Office and Audit Commission to the Public Accounts Committee to scrutinise such processes to ensure that they are handled equitably and without bias or political interference.

Once again, Staines is peddling innuendo without any evidence to back up an assertion of corruption, despite the fact that had he any evidence to offer he would be perfectly free to raise his 'concerns' with the National Audit Office or the Public Accounts Committee, both of whom have the authority to investigate such matters.

Guido has asked them repeatedly this morning who commissioned the poll, but nobody at Opinion Leader Research seems to know...

UPDATE : Guido has just noticed that The Sun this morning headlines Deborah's "survey" Brown is back in poll victory. Will that do Gordon?

I'm sure it will, but this is irrelvant - although it does lead us neatly in Staines' second post on OLR, some two days later, in which he gets a reply to his questions:

Pollster's Answers Lead to More Questions

Opinion Leader Research have got back to Guido and they say nobody paid for that research. They just asked questions slanted to favour Gordon for no particular reason.

There are one or two omissions of fact here that need to be explained before we move on.

The ICM poll that put Cameron 13% ahead of Brown was conducted on 16th-18th Feb 2007 and reported in the Guardian on 20th Feb.

The OLR survey of 'opinion leaders' was conducted between 15th and 20th Feb and hit the press on the 26th Feb - so the poll was completed on the same day that news of Cameron's apparent 13% lead over Brown was published with the research having started the day before the ICM poll began.

That hardly supports the idea that OLR's poll was a 'response' to the ICM poll, given that OLR started its research the day before ICM started asking questions for its survey - and in any case the two are very different polls with very different methodologies, which hardly makes them comparable in any meaningful sense.

As for the claim that OLR's questions were biased toward Brown, what OLR actually asked was whether the respondents in its survey (20 senior execs in the city, 20 in major companies, 20 in NGOs, 20 in the media and 20 in politics and government) thought Brown and Cameron:

1. Believe in what they say

2. Have integrity

3. Lack real substance

4. Understand ordinary life, and

5. Would set this country in a better direction as Prime Minister.

And okay, one could well argue that question 4 is a tad biased given that everyone knows that Cameron is a scion of the aristocracy but as for the other four questions, its interesting to see Staines suggesting that questions about whether Cameron believes in what he says and has integrity and real substance are biased against him and in favour of Brown. That's actually quitea remarkable assertion when one comes to think about - please don't ask about Cameron's integrity, its an unfair question (???). Hardly a ringing endorsement of Cameron is it?

They also say they won their lucrative HM Treasury contract and the Bank of England contract in a competitive tendering process.

They won't say why the Treasury needs pollsters, what they poll about, or how much they have been paid.

Guido could understand if the Treasury needed statisticians, but pollsters? Perhaps the Bank of England would be interested in measuring, say for example, people's inflation expectations, but their opinions? If public money has been spent by the Treasury on pollsters who have asked questions that assist Gordon in his personal political ambitions, that would be a massive breach of the Ministerial Code bordering on corruption. If it were to be proved that the payments to do something innocuous were effectively a hidden subsidy covering the costs of doing polling on issues of interest to Gordon Brown for no particular reason it would be scandalous.

Actually both of Staines' questions are easy to answer on the basis of minimal research - it took me 10 minutes or so armed only with Google and Hansard, so its not that hard to find.

OLR did not actually do any 'polling' for the Treasury at all - because that was not what the contract they had in March 2006 was about. What they actually did is described here, on their own website where everyone can see it...

This research was commissioned by HM Treasury, on behalf of the Financial Inclusion Taskforce and its overall aim was to develop greater understanding of financial exclusion from the consumer perspective. In particular, the study was tasked with exploring the demand-side barriers to mainstream banking and to gain consumer views on how banking and credit services can be made more appropriate and accessible.

Four half day workshops were conducted across England, Scotland and Wales. Each workshop was attended by 40 people who were recruited according to quotas set to reflect the characteristics of the financially excluded.

Participants worked in groups to discuss their experiences and explore solutions. The research materials were designed using Easy Read stimulus to ensure they were accessible and engaging. Keypad quantitative technology was used to gather views and feed these back instantaneously; this process helped to engender a sense of collaboration amongst people in the workshop.

That's not a 'poll' at all, nor is it inappropriate research for the Treasury to be undertaking, as Staines is trying to suggest - and it certainly isn't backdoor opinion polling for Gordon Brown either.

What it is, is a perfectly legitimate series of focus group studies for a policy development taskforce looking at what, for some, is a very important issue - demand-side barriers to accessing mainstream banking services.

As for how much it cost - well one can say for certain that it cost less than 200,000 Euros for starters...

How do we know that? Well, because under EU law, the tender documents for any public sector service/supply contract with a value over 200,000 Euros has to be published in the Journal of the European Community and will appear on the EU's Tenders Electronic Daily website - and as this contract does not appear on TED it has to have been for less than 200,000 Euros.

All of which explains why this next parliamentary question, to which Staines refers...

Since Gordon's personal pollsters won't give Guido answers, maybe Gordon will answer Stewart Jackson's parliamentary questions?

  • To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the decision to engage Opinion Leader Research to undertake polling for HM Treasury was subject to a competitive tendering process and will he make a statement.
  • To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much has been spent in each year since 2001 by HM Treasury on polling services provided by Opinion Leader Research and will he make a statement.

Got the following answer...

John Healey [ holding answer 1 March 2007]: The Treasury has not commissioned any opinion polling in the past three years. I refer to the answer I gave the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) on 4 December 2006, Official Report, column 196W.

In short, the research that OLR did for the Treasury was not an opinion poll - which Stewart Jackson could have found out from OLR's website for nothing and saved the taxpayer the cost of yet another irrelevant written question.

And if one checks the response to Mark Hoban's question on 4 December, one finds the actual costs of contracts awarded to OLR by the Treasury in the last three years given as follows...

John Healey: Over the last three financial years the Treasury has employed Opinion Leader Research Ltd. to conduct research on public attitudes towards public services and to inform decisions in the run up to the 2005 Budget (£19,021 in total); and to run workshops for the Financial Inclusion Taskforce (£133,237). The costs stated are excluding VAT.

Not much of a cover up is it - you can get the exact figures on what the Treasury actually paid OLR out of Hansard in a matter of 30 seconds simply by searching for 'Opinion Leader Research'.

A co-conspirator points out that they also had no identifiable paying client for their "What it means to be British" research in 2005. Shortly afterwards Gordon began loudly banging his Britishness drum. Opinion Leader Research has helped Gordon on "Britishness" issues before, their research was used extensively in “New Britain” a 1999 publication produced by the Smith Institute. The pamphlet was itself singled out and explicitly criticised by the Charity Commission as being party political in the first 2001 investigation into the Sith.

There is a slight problem with this passage, one which, if one scans the comments on this article, is noted by someone named Julian:

Hope you are aware that Opinion Leader Research is just another of Chime Communications which also just happens to be the holding company of that well-known politically impartial organisation ... Bell Pottinger.

Chime Communications is the owner of Opinion Leader Research and the CEO of Chime and Bell Pottinger is none other than Baron Timothy Bell, former MD of Saatchi and Saatchi and PR advisor to Margaret Thatcher... oops.

(Staines, naturally, fails update his original post to reflect this information, which completely destroys the main thrust of his innuendo, unless he's going to suggest that Tim Bell has gone over to the 'dark side' and joined 'The Sith'.)

Guido sees a pattern here; the Treasury hosts over a hundred of the Smith Institute's seminars - rent-free, simultaneously the Treasury pays the Smith Institute to hold seminars. The Treasury pays Deborah Mattinson's Opinion Leader Research generously, Deborah Mattinson sits on the Smith Institute's board and does "polling" that is helpful to Gordon - for free. She also writes hagiographical press articles about Gordon, based on her own polling research, whenever negative independent poll findings come out.

Not only is there no evidence for any of this, but the information that was already in the public domain at the point this was written entirely contradicts the picture that Staines is trying to paint - never let documentary facts get in the way of a good bit of tinfoil-hatted innuendo never mind that its Tim Bell's operation you're slating here, eh Paul?

It is becoming increasingly clear that the taxpayer has been paying, via the Treasury, for Gordon's polling and spin, all tightly coordinated via the Smith Institute to promote the Brownite political agenda. This is abuse of office.

Except, of course, that its not clear at all that that is what's happening here. What the taxpayer has actually been paying for from OLR is a matter of public record and not only does nothing in the public domain support any of Staines' innuendos, but much of it expressly contradicts his spurious claims.

And with that, we'll move on to his last post on OLR, which appeared today...

Sith Pollster Believed Under Professional Standards Investigation

As if Gordon's Sith allies didn't have enough problems with the Charity Commission investigation, it appears that the Market Research Standards Board is to investigate Opinion Leader Research, Gordon Brown's pollster. Guido called the Standards Board to get confirmation, but they said they could not comment on individual cases. When Guido asked them to confirm they weren't investigating OLR, they declined.

Oo-er - sounds serious doesn't it?

Except that when one looks at the kind of things that the 'Market Research Standards Board' tends to investigate one find that this includes:

Questionnaire wording - These complaints concern allegations of bias in the questionnaire. This includes the existence of ‘persuasive facts’ in the questionnaire and questions that lead respondents to a particular answer.

Reporting of results in media - This includes press release and other statements made by both researcher and their clients. Results must be adequately supported by the data on which they are based.

Member behaviour - These cases involve the individual misconduct of an MRS member. Typically, it includes complaints made by one member against another, allegations of dishonesty, and interviewer behaviour when interviewer is a member.

Respondent feeling misled - Respondent can feel misled by being induced to participate in research with information that is inaccurate or untrue, for example, the length of time an interview will take or the purpose of the research. This category also covers complaints regarding potentially misleading methodology.

Interviewer behaviour : non member - Many complaints concern interviewers’ interaction with members of the public, for example, allegations of tactlessness, pushiness, or over familiarity. The MRS can investigate these complaints where the interviewer is supervised or is the responsibility of an MRS member or where the interviewer works for an MRS Company Partner organisation.

So, if there is a complaint against OLR it could be about any one of a number things and completely and utterly unrelated to any of the innuendos being spread by Staines or, alternatively, this rumoured complaint could be based on nothing more than the readily debunked and insubstantial innuendos that Staines published back in February.

Moreover, not only does the MRSB - which is only an internal watchdog of a trade association, after all - not confirm whether a complaint has been made against a member but it also does not publish any detailed information on any disciplinary matters even after they have been dealt with, the upshot of which is that there is no way of knowing if there is a complaint against OLR, where the complaint originated, what the substance of the complaint is or (eventually) the outcome of any investigation and or disciplinary proceedings, should any result. This is absolutely perfect terrain for an inveterate rumour monger and/or his camp followers as they can spread innuendo to their hearts content, safe in the knowledge that no one is likely to come out and directly contradict them or put the record straight, because such matters are dealt with entirely internally and the most that the Market Research Society publishes is general statistics on the number and type of complaints they receive.

In all respects this is even more fertile ground for running innuendo-based smears than usual as, unlike the Charity Commission, the MRSB does not publish its findings and there is, therefore, no chance of Staines' little innuendos being publicly (and officially) debunked.

At this point, given Staines' predilection for innuendo and conspiracy theories, lets throw a little innuendo of our own into the pot for a moment and see if what emerges sounds plausible.

Over the last few months, the Smith Institute and some of the those associated with it have been under a concerted attack from both Staines and the Tory Party, who see it as means of miring Gordon Brown down in as yet unsubstantiated allegations of low-level sleaze. And throughout this period the attacks have all followed roughly the same basic pattern.

It starts out with a stream of innuendos and very loose claims of unspecified 'misconduct', none of which can actually be substantiated and in which Staines typically plays a part in spreading the gossip. This is left to brew for a little while after which there is some sort of formal complaint to regulatory body, which is generally the point at which the rumours and innuendos get a bit of mainstream press coverage - largely because once the formal complaint goes in they can more or less get away with repeating the rumours and innuendos without much of a risk of catching a libel action in reply.

This was the pattern with the complaint to the Charity Commission, with the Tories recent speculative efforts to get the Electoral Commission to go a fishing expedition into the Smith Institutes finances and now the same pattern seems to be emerging around another organisation with links to the Smith Institute - Opinion Leader Research.

What all these complaints have in common, apart from the involvement of Staines (and the Tory Party) in spreading the innuendos as widely as possible and routinely purporting to be 'in the know' about them is:

a) They're all indirect attacks on Gordon Brown's integrity, routed via a relatively soft target, i.e. The Smith Institute,

b) None of them have been substantiated (as yet) in the slightest, and

c) They all related to activities in which the legal/regulatory framework that its alleged that the Smith Institute (and now OLR) have somehow breached is unfamilar to the public and in most respects rather arcane and technical.

For example - so far as one can tell, the Bob Shrum seminars on which the complaint the Charity Commission is based, were actually arranged through a subsidiary trading company owned by the Smith Institute - SI Event's Limited. Now, in charity law, registered charities are permitted to own and operate trading subsidiaries - and many do - and those subsidiaries are not subject to the same restrictions on activities that apply to the charities themselves, provided that a clear dividing line is maintained between the work of the charity and that of its trading arm. That's the legal position but it one that not well understood by the public - in fact most of the public are unlikely to even realise that such a thing is either possible or legal.

So while the law is clear, the public understanding of the law is, at best, vague, which creates just the right environment for the spreading of rumours and innuendo of a kind that relies heavily on the public's lack of detailed understanding of the nuances and subtleties of charity law.

The same can be said of this Times report on the Tories recent complaint to the Electoral Commission, which includes the following entirely misleading statement:

Under electoral laws, any organisation that develops policy for political parties or helps promote politicians must declare all donations of more than £5,000.

This is only true of an organisation operating in electoral law as a registrable third party, which means an organisation that actively campaigns for or produces electional materials supporting a particular party or block of candidates or one that directly sponsors research that aims to promote a particular policy for or to a political party for political reasons - rules that cover the sponsorship of conferences and publications carried out to that end as well as the research itself.

However, such activities must also be expressly political and tied directly to a specific party (or parties) or a specific policy associated with a particular party - the rules are not generic or all encompassing and it's simply not true that any organisation the develops policy for political parties must declare their donations - which is what the Times suggests. If it were then pretty much every political think-tank from the Adam Smith Institute and Centre for Policy Studies on the right to the IPPR on the left would have to register with the Electoral Commission and identify all their donors - which would make for interesting reading, certainly, but is hardly what any of main political parties would want.

At this stage, the only thing that gives any of these 'complaints' any credence at all is the fact that a regulatory body is or may be conducting an investigation into the allegations about which Staines and others have been spreading rumour and innuendo. But any such credence is necessarily subject to rather a sizeable 'but'...

If you take the time to look at the regulations that govern any of regulatory bodies that have recently received Smith Institute-related complaints and read up on their own rules and codes of practice, then what becomes immediately apparent is that each of them is compelled by their own regulations to investigate complaints forwarded to them about organisations over which they have regulatory jurisdiction, irrespective of whether or not there is actually any substantive evidence of wrongdoing. All that is necessary to trigger the complaints procedure and cause an investigation to be conducted is a properly-formed allegation of misconduct, i.e. a complaint of a breach of regulations of a kind that is within the purview of the regulator to investigate. Satisfy that condition and the regulator is compelled to conduct at least an exploratory investigation to ascertain whether a full investigation is merited, even if that investigation turns up nothing of substance and proves only that the complaint itself in unfounded and lacks any factual basis.

It's death by a thousand cuts, isn't it - just keep throwing the mud and some of it will stick, at least until the investigation is concluded and a ruling is made, which could take months. In fact in the case of the Charity Commission it will take months, because their investigations invariably do.

Moreover, once the investigation is underway, there is very little that the organisation against which the complaint has been lodged can do, publicly, to refute allegations without being perceived to be trying to interfere with the course of the investigation - the Smith Institute, for the time being, simply cannot fight back because its hands are tied by the Charity Commission's investigation - another fine point of Charity law that is not widely understood by the public is that Charity Commission investigations and ruling are, in law, of a judicial character, which means that the general rules of sub-judice apply. All the Smith Institute can do for the time being make flat denials and take a beating in the press until the conclusion of the investigation, at which point it may be able to fire back - but by then the damage may well have gone too far to be retrieved by publicly confronting its accusers.

Now you could write that off as simply a bit of spin on my own part - an effort to counter one set of conspiracy theories by clouding the waters with another conspiracy theory of my own, and its true that I have no more evidence for any of this last series of speculations that Staines has of corruption in any dealing between OLR and the Treasury.

The thing is, though, if there really were any substance to Staines' rumours and innuendos about OLR and awarding of public sector contracts then that would amount to criminal corruption of a kind that would result in a Police investigation were a complaint made to them - in fact a Police investigation into such allegations would be far more damaging to Brown, the Smith Institute and OLR than Staines' current run of innuendo or any number of complaints to 'soft' regulators and trade associations - so why not make the complaint and have done with it?

Well, for two very obvious reasons:

1. Staines has no actual concrete evidence to support any his rumours and innuendos whatsoever, and

2. The little matter of the criminal offence of wasting police time.

If Staines was really in possession of evidence to show that OLR had been corruptly awarded government contracts or even confident that a police investigation - or even one by the National Audit Office or Public Accounts Committee - would turn up any such evidence, then he, or someone of similar mind and intent, would make the complaint and let the police investigate the matter. With the possibility of causing that kind of damage, why confine yourself to fifth rate innuendos on your website...

...unless all you're doing is blowing smoke.

Guido has previously noted the cosy closeness of the relationship between OLR, HM Treasury, the Smith Institute, Deborah Mattinson and Gordon Brown. Whenever more objective polls are gloomy for Gordon, OLR can be relied on to produce "Gordon more popular than sliced bread" stories.

And Staines can be relied upon to spread rumour and innuendo, even when 10 minutes research turns up ample evidence that his allusions are without substance.

So perhaps the real question here is not so much who OLR are cosy with. but just exactly who Paul Staines is cosy with at the moment... any guesses?

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Infiltrator wanted

Must have computer skills, GSOH, a strong liver, the ability to repeatedly (and convincingly) tell Staines what he wants to hear, and a willingness to preserve the integrity of the blogosphere:


You will be expected to file a report* upon the completion of your duties.

[*Said report will, of course, have to be in keeping with Paul's non-disclosure agreement... but we will happily help you to exploit every loophole in the document.]

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Freedom of Expression is Absolute (unless it's about me!)

Oh no! It's yet more faux-libertarianism and lies from Paul 'Guido Fawkes' Staines.

As Tim has already explained, Guido has posted a defence of his selective comment deletion. Guido wants you to think it's all about good blog housekeeping, but we know what Paul is really doing is ensuring that his cool persona is not tarnished by those in the know.

Yet - and this is very cheeky - in the very same breath, Staines is also seeking to big himself up as some kind of libertarian hero, spouting off in defence of jailed Iranian bloggers (all part of the spin people, all very MTfuckingV).

Sunny (Hundal, of Pickled Politics fame) pulls Staines up on his libertarian posturing, pointing out what a shallow charlatan the real Paul Staines really is: -

11:33 PM, April 11, 2007
Sunny said...
Absolute freedom of speech eh Guido? I'm not sure you believe in that since you've been known to attempt to sue people to withhold information about your past? I don't want to be posting links since you will probably delete my comment, but you know what I'm talking about.

Freedom of speech is never absolute so please stop pretending to be a hardcore libertarian. And I think you mis-understood the point of Jonathan's article.

Ouch! Methinks someone hit a nerve.

Guido, clearly smarting from Sunny's well-placed dagger of truth, is quick to respond: -

11:51 PM, April 11, 2007
Guido Fawkes Esq. said...
There was no "attempt to sue". There was a plain warning that if any false claims were made litigation would follow.

Re Freedland - it is a very poor argument to claim that someone "misunderstands" when you merely disagree. At a loss as to what you think was "misunderstood" given Freedland's argument isn't addressed here at all.

Incidentally, "the right to freedom of speech is absolute" would be a more accurate headline. So we almost agree on something.

Note that Guido doesn't actually refute what Sunny implies, but merely pulls at a loose thread in his comment, playing semantics if you like (Guido knows that his litigious threats had the desired effect - i.e. the link to an article from the Guardian, which showed a young Paul Staines in a very bad light, was removed from Sunny's site).

But Staines is also being a little economical with the truth. It wasn't "a plain warning that if any false claims were made litigation would follow," at all; Staines threatened legal action to have certain documents kept from the public sphere and claimed that he had a full retraction from the newspaper (he had a letter from the journo, but it could hardly be called a retraction). So not a warning, but a demand. Legal action was presented as a certainty if any reference to the article was not withdrawn, and at one stage it was presented as a certainty even if it was withdrawn.

Those of us who remember that fateful Sunday morning remember the free-speech defending Staines throwing his legal threats around with little regard for his libertarian pretensions (he even made a threat on his blog, but this was soon pulled so as not to burden his followers with the truth behind the mask).

Paul Staines, as part of the compromise that saw Sunny pull the offending post, promised an interview with Pickled Politics to settle the matter. This turned out to be a waste of everyone's time, as Paul - our defender of truth and warrior against the evils of spin, refused to discuss the matter at all.

You see this is our problem with Paul Staines. He's a nothing but a hypocrite and completely full of shit.


Sock-puppets etc.

As promised, here is a new article about sock-puppets and why the "If you don't like it, don't read it!" defence does not apply.

This is one of the key static articles on the brand new microsite Iain Dale's Dairy.

The site has launched with a clearly stated moderation policy, and a similar policy will be published here shortly after consultation with our site contributors.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Please stop wasting my time (1 & 2)

1. The new Recess Monkey video is in a sense a tribute video and further evidence that the contributors have a poverty of ideas. They would enjoy more success if they tried something less derivative and more novel.

2. This post is further proof of Guido's talent for spin. Apparently, his blog being private property and/or free-of-charge to the taxpayer makes the harm it does less significant. The "If you don't like it, don't read it." defence makes a repeat appearance, and there is also a suggestion that Staines acts as our great protector twice over... by not only fearlessly burning democracy to the ground, but also selflessly reigning in any possible negative side-effects of the arson process.

Bless him and his little cotton sock-puppets.

The latter point will be dealt with strenuously tomorrow.

(The short version for those who cannot wait: Paul Staines is a lying, selfish scumbag.... and the same applies to blogging 'expert' Iain Dale.)

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A bucket of spin from the chummer-in-chief

I promised you a fisking of this post from Paul Staines, and here it is. Remember when you read this that it comes from a man who claims to hate spin:

Am away for the weekend and forgot to put comment moderation on. You-know-who posts five comments on one post - then cries "he deleted me" when the inevitable happens. Iain has now banned him as well, so he is starting an anti-Iain Dale blog to join his anti-Guido blog. That is fine by me, freedom of speech means he is entitled to publish his views.

It was four comments, with three of them refuting the usual bullshit from his gang on anonymous bullies (i.e. the abuse that is designed to undermine and discourage anyone exercising their right to free speech). But now those comments have been deleted, they can be anything Mr Staines wants them to be.

The difference in audience size enjoyed by the likes of Iain and Guido compared to the contributors to our respective anti-blogs is growing. Now readers will know that Guido, like Iain, is a humble type, shy and retiring even, so it is with some hesitation that Guido ventures to say that the reason Iain and Guido have far more readers is that we try to be entertaining and bring news. Now Guido may only aspire to gossip and tittle-tattle (over 80,000 people have watched the Gordon the Bogeyman story), but that seems to be what people want and enjoy.

Well, that audience may well appear to be growing at an impressive rate, but only because Staines uses the number of comments as a key aspect of measurement... and he's been busy fostering an audience of individuals who like to pose as multiple individuals. Each time his measurement-audience grows by one member, it appears to grow by 3, 6 or 12. The 'humble' comment I'll classify as sarcasm and put down to a rare moment of self-awareness... but it's a dark path that you walk down when your efforts to be entertaining interfere with the selection of news (or when, in an effort to be 'entertaining', you blur the line between news and editorial). As for giving people what they want... do I need to finish this sentence?

It may not be what others think Guido should write about, it may not be in the deferential style that others think should be employed, it certainly gets up the noses of the old media and the embedded-in-the-political-system journalists known as the Lobby. If you don't like it, don't read it.

I'm not sure if Staines is suggesting here that I'm a willing/unwilling tool of the establishment, but I can afford to let it go; the "If you don't like it, don't read it." fallacy is the highlight here. It's at blogs like that of Dale and Staines that a nugget of unsubstantiated gossip evolves into (or is deliberately reinforced as) an 'open secret'... and from that point is eventually unleashed to do its damage. I don't like it, but the only way to combat it is to show people how it's done. There is also the small matter of the anonymous bullies that spill over from such weblogs into the weblogs and lives of others. A fire does not go out because you turn your back on it.

Simple. Better still, offer a more compelling and attractive product that beats Guido in the competitive marketplace that is the blogosphere. That takes hard work. The easier path is just to call for censorship or attack and try to undermine the legitimacy of your rivals. Claim that Iain and Guido's ascendancy is not based on hard work or talent, but lies and fiction, claim that the two most successful and well known bloggers in Britain somehow undermine blogging. We have done so much to popularise this medium - it is not going to wash. Blogging is just an easy way of publishing, it is a software platform, not a religious movement. Get real.

Following the path of least resistance is hard work? News to me. There's also a staggering misrepresentation of our respective positions here:

1. As has been made clear, it is Guido who engages in censorship, and there has been no call from me to censor views that I do not like.

2. I have also shown on a number of occasions how anonymous bullies (and those who breed them and/or hide behind them) censor the views of others... usually by intimidating their rivals or (*cough*) undermining the legitimacy of their rivals.

3. There are lies and fiction at work in these claims to ascendancy, and also a fair amount of cheating... but I don't discount the actual popularity or level of awareness that exists. In fact, I've expressed concern about it:

4. When Iain Dale touts himself as an expert and says "This is what blogging is!", he provides an easy 'out' for those who don't wish to engage, and a master class for those who wish to subvert. Dale and Staines have not popularised the medium... they've enabled the dismissal of this medium and popularised its misuse.

5. I don't recall claiming blogging to be a religious calling. All I've been doing is promoting its legitimate and intelligent use... along the same lines that Dale and Staines claim to be doing:

"The power of blogging flows from directly connecting with the readers, key to that direct connection is honesty." - Paul Staines

"Blogging has become a phenomenon which can help shape the political and current affairs agenda. It can be a force for good as well as a means of destruction." - Iain Dale

The new anti-Iain blog is in a sense a tribute blog and further evidence that the contributors have a poverty of ideas. They would enjoy more success if they tried something less derivative and more novel. Meantime Dizzy wants an anti-blog as well. You're no one daahhling, if you haven't got one.

Ah, yes.... this is something that Iain can be proud of. No doubt I'll have to re-think my position lest I give the man more credit than he is due. Nice try. As for the tired old Tory line of 'poverty of ideas' (from the left)... isn't this a bit rich coming from the guy who emulates Drudge and brought the Popbitch concept to politics?

PS - I don't see Iain Dale criticising this actual copy of the Guido Fawkes format or presenting it as evidence of a 'poverty of ideas' from the right... do you?

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Friday, April 06, 2007

More spin? I expected better from you, Paul*

Heh. Mr Staines sure is going to a lot of effort to show us how little he cares. And from an exotic location, no less. It just goes to show that one should not tangle with one's betters.

A fisk will have to wait... the Queen of Sheba awaits my attention in the throne room.

[*No I didn't.]

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Iain Dale has banned me from his website - the gutless hypocrite!

Yes, it's true. And you can read all about it here.

This ban follows Iain's announcement that he would not be answering any of my emails... ever.

Keep a sharp eye out for a brand new weblog that's all about Iain Dale, Westminster's favourite blogging 'expert'... building starts today.

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Unity checking in...

Tim's asked everyone who's joining the Guido 2.0 party to do a quick 'introduce yourself' post, so here goes...

I'm Unity and my online home is the Ministry of Truth.

As for why I'm here - lots of reasons.

I'm a Labour Party member for one thing, so slapping down Tories is almost second nature, but more than that what's coming to increasingly interest me is the way in which so much of modern political culture is systemically infected with carefully crafted propaganda - call it 'spin' if you like, but it amounts to the same thing.


So you see, I really, seriously dislike bullshit, and Paul Staines is a bullshitter par-excellence, so naturally if there's a chance to expose that then you can count me in.

If you want the underlying philosophy behind that then you'll need to read Baudrillard and DeBord, otherwise just sit back and watch the action unfold - you'll get the idea soon enough.

Blogging can go one of two ways from this point. Take the blue pill and it can develop fully into an authentic exchange of ideas, enrich our political culture and become a tool for holding the political elite to account, or take the red pill instead and it can become a cesspit of sock-puppet driven propaganda that benefits no one but the people at the top.

I've taken the blue pill, and I'd suggest you do likewise...

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It's grim oop North

Hi, I'm Clive and I blog (when time allows) at The UK Today.

I'm here at the invite of Tim. I accepted this invitation to contribute in order to address the biggest single threat faced by the UK political blogosphere; the growing influence of certain right-wing blogs and a rampant outpouring of hypocrisy. Sorry, the two biggest threats faced by the UK political blogosphere; the growing influence of certain right-wing blogs, a rampant outpouring of hypocrisy and the condoning of unacceptable online conduct. The many threats faced by the UK political blogosphere....

Excuse me, I'll try that again.

I'm a socialist, with a small "s". Unlike The Great Charm Rat (or Blessed St Margaret as the less discerning call her) I believe in this strange thing called "society". In fact I find most of what the Conservatives (and New Labour) stand for to be unpleasant and unacceptable in a civilised society. I'm also a Christian who believes that Matthew hit the nail firmly on the head.

1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
Now, I've met Paul Staines and while he superficially appeared pleasant enough, I remember how he and his ilk behaved during the 80's and 90's. I lived in Berkshire when Cruise and Pershing arrived; I was studying in the Rhondda in South Wales during the miner's strike; the Lawson boom forced me to leave the place where I grew up and where all my friends lived and I have spent the last 18 years living in a region devastated by Thatcherism and the worst excesses of Conservative policy.

Anyone capable of reasoned judgement and who has visited Staines' blog will see it for what it is. A partisan cess-pit of bigotry, hypocracy and right-wing excess. It may seem cool, knocking the New Labour government (with justification), but don't for a moment believe the spin Paul puts on his blog. When the Conservatives finally form a government, don't expect people like Staines' to hold them to account. They'll simply become the sycophantic mouthpieces of a New Tory establishment that at heart will be no different to New Labour or the old Tories.

Staines' blog isn't cool, it is a dangerously appealing home for people who either should know better yet don't care, or seriously misguided individuals who don't appreciate the risks inherent in Staines' methods.

So I'm here to provide balance; to try and highlight the need for greater honesty, transparency and better standards of conduct in the political blogosphere.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I'm in it for the Children

Hello there. My name is Aaron and I write the blog.

I'm delighted to accept Tim's invitation to Guido 2.0 for several reasons. But first I'd like to say from the outset that I have no personal gripe with Paul "Guido Fawkes" Staines or Precious Iain Dale, and as far as I know they're both thoroughly decent chaps, although I doubt it very much.

My main reason for contributing to Guido 2.0 is to help shed light on the very serious myopia active within the rightwing blogosphere. What do I mean? Well, firstly, I'm rather befuddled as to how someone like Paul Staines becomes a hero to so many bedroom-bound Tories?

Yes, yes, I know; there are few things that get the Tory juices going like a greying middle-aged banker with a paunch. But seriously, this whole fucking obsession with a guy and his laptop is really odd and just a bit weird.

Secondly, I'd like to bust the myth that somehow over the past couple of years it's become OK to become a Tory.

It's not OK. It probably never will be. Children, please; being a Tory just isn't cool. The dangerous game the Tories are playing scares the hell out of me.

Just think. All these impressionable facebookers and myspacers coming across Paul’s radical looking site or Slipery Dave’s spunky WebCameron video blog; they’re inclined to think that these are just more cool networking opportunities. No Children! Playing with Conservatism is very dangerous. First you’re chatting about what Dave C plays on his iPod, the next minute you’re wearing a 'hang Nelson Mandela' t-shirt and stealing your little brother's milk. This is how it starts people.

So in essence, I see my contribution here as an opportunity to help out the little people: the poor impressionable children. God Bless them.

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And so it begins...

Invites have been sent. From this moment on I will be posting and commenting here and elsewhere under this name/profile. The 'Guido 2.0' profile will only be used for group posts and housekeeping purposes.


Hello, readers. Manic is here to answer your questions an*...




Feel... strange sensation... normalcy... coursing through body!

Cannot... talk... or type... at normal rate.

Must... shed.... third-person.... charad*...



Hello, readers. Ziggy is here to answer your questions a*...





[general panting and slurping noises]


Ah.... I feel much better now.

I'd like to begin by thanking the many supporters who have emailed over the past few days (you know who you are) and pointed out that the 'third-person' gag was getting a bit old and getting in the way of the material. (Kind of like those "Thatcher is a cunt!" jokes of yore... we all knew she was a cunt.)

The watershed moment appears to have come when (as predicted here) Paul de Laire Staines insisted on being disguised and addressed as 'Guido Fawkes' on Newsnight. (A few emails had arrived before this moment, but after Newsnight they came in with machine-gun regularity.)

Praguetory spent an entire day yesterday finding out how difficult it was to satirise satire, and had this to say when he was finished wiping the white wee-wee from his (short) trousers: Blogging in the style of another blogger is fun for a day, but do it for an extended period could drive you nuts.

He's not far off the mark (for once).

As fun as it was watching supporters of Staines banging on about how moronic it was to post/comment in third-person and/or making out that doing so equated with their sock-puppet nonsense, the charade was very difficult to maintain, and I found myself wondering several times how Staines manages to keep it up so consistently without surrendering to the character and/or going completely fucking mental.

So... no more third-person, here or under comments on this blog or elsewhere.

I'm as relieved as you are... and it's not the only change to this weblog that starts from now:

Guido 2.0 will now also become a META-BLOG and will include contributions from a range of bloggers who are unimpressed with Paul Staines*, his antics, and the antics of the anonymous bullies that he hides behind.

Invites will be sent to potential contributors today.

Contributors will be expected to provide material for an upcoming 'about us' profile page, but apart from this and the necessary bits and bobs designed to stop us from treading on each other's toes, the only condition that will be laid down will be as follows:

You will need to always keep in mind that this is my weblog and it is hosted on my web space; I carry the legal risks and we're dealing with a very litigious 'libertarian', so on contentious issues I have the final say on what gets published here.

One major advantage to this arrangement; the new contributors are allowed to leave comments on Staines' website. He banned me for acting *exactly* like his gang of sock-puppeting morons... just not in his favour. If he bans people from commenting just because they contribute to this website, he's going to look a right twat (again).

Manic has....

Oops. That was a close one.

Cheers all.

[*Iain Dale? Well, he gets to keep his very own category in the short-term... but he should also keep an eye out for a prophecy fulfilled. Those who miss out on contributing to this meta-blog because of the need to keep author numbers to a manageable level need not worry... more opportunities await you in the future.]

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Another major victory for Guido 2.0!

Iain Dale has finally introduced proper comment timestamps on his website. Manic would like to note for the record that Iain Dale did this while everyone was busy pointing and laughing at Paul Staines... was it a good day to bury an overdue update, Iain?

As promised, the Guido 2.0 microsite now also features comment timestamps that show both time and date... and Manic will now offer to switch on 'backlinks' and/or stop talking in third-person the moment Paul Staines does the same.

What use are comment timestamps that show both time and date? Well, they make it impossible for the author to go back at a later date and 'replay' a series of anonymous comments that initially did not turn out to his advantage. They also stop sneaky contributors/authors from popping into long-dead threads and appearing to have successfully had the last word.

Finally, and quite specifically, in threads like this one... they also make it clear how long one normally has to wait for Iain Dale to put up or shut up.

PS - If Manic ever runs quotes on the header images of his website telling everyone how great he is, he will be using the following quote from this exchange:
"You suggest I do something. I then do it." - Iain Dale
Manic has spoken. End communication.

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Praguetory tries to be funny

Praguetory is back after nearly a month of nursing his bruises, and desperately dashing from blog to blog promoting his 'impersonate Manic' day under comments. Individual items may pass muster as being on-topic, but taken collectively it stinks of spam.... so in an effort to keep the blogosphere relatively spam-free, Manic will happily help Praguetory along and heartily promote this event (which is sure to reveal more about Praguetory than it will about Manic):

Praguetory - Keep Looking Watson

Not a good start. Praguetory is so lacking in self-awareness that he does not realise how stupid he looks by targeting Tom Watson to 'get at' Manic when the big-game-hunter antics he and Paul Staines play have already been rumbled.

Also, he is basing his style on 'Guido 2.0', not Bloggerheads. It is not easy to successfully find humour in mocking a writing style that satirises another... you undermine yourself from the outset by showing that you do not get the joke!

And while humour can be found in the subtle reworking of the material of your target, it does not pay to simply throw the same material back at that target verbatim unless their hypocrisy is so obvious/proven and totally inline with the original text that the audience is sure to get the joke.... and in trying to 'prove' hypocrisy, Praguetory not only fails miserably, but (again) shows his ignorance:

Not only is Tom Watson mocking David Cameron by way of a 'caught unawares at home' video blog [see: satire (use of)], but the allowance that Tom Watson and many other MPs voted for (that Manic himself thinks is a bit of a joke) cannot be used for campaigning purposes! Silly boy.

As for the 'Filipino maid' remark, Manic (in his role as full-time campaign manager for Tom Watson) criticised Tom privately at the time and is not afraid to make the content of that communication public now:
That maid remark wasn't very smart, Tom. Even if you're mocking the cheap shots Mr Nice Guy allows from his activists, you're forgetting that the Tories are such shameless liars that they will simply pick up the ball and run with it, yelling "Look! He's taking a cheap shot!"
And so it has come to pass.

UPDATE - Here comes Post #2

Praguetory - Check The Toilet Watson

Targeting Tom again? This subject has already been covered Mr Big Game Hunter. Next!

UPDATE - Here comes Post #3

Praguetory - Check The Outside Toilet Watson

Tom again. And he's not getting any funnier. That was the point of this exercise, yes?

UPDATE - Post #4

Praguetory - Have You Tried Taking Up The Drains Watson?

Tom again!? As Manic has stated under comments, he is beginning to suspect that Praguetory is using 'satire' as an excuse for publishing a series of libellous comments about Tom Watson.

UPDATE - Post #5

Praguetory - How To Win Friends & Influence People

Manic fails to see any effort, humour or point in repeating content verbatim in this way... especially when Manic produced proof of his claims of cowardice in the original post and Praguetory has not in his carbon copy of its content. It also needs to be noted that the word 'bogroll' and the childish name-calling originated at the 'Guido Fawkes' weblog and that the subsquent 'bogroll' here was intended to mock that. He is again failing to identify satire while trying to satirise it by starting his own 'bogroll'... and calling Manic a hypocrite as he does so. Does anyone have any paracetamol?

UPDATE - Post #6

Praguetory - What Watson?

Praguetory reveals that the entire stunt is designed to slag off Tom Watson, and that he already has the material prepared. The excuse he gives is delicious... Manic would have gladly been a part of this regardless of the subject matter!

UPDATE - Post #7

Praguetory - Hamer’s A Card

Ah, the muddy waters begin to clear... a 'case' is being built of sock-puppet hypocrisy! Praguetory appears to be leading up to a claim that Hamer is a sock-puppet controlled by Tom Watson, who in turn is operating under Manic's direction. Of course, Praguetory can't have any proof of this, because it simply isn't true. Not that it matters; Praguetory probably plans to delete all of today's bilge anyway... he's a big fan of retro-moderation, that boy.

UPDATE - Post #8

Praguetory - Ageism

Closest he's come to satire all day. Too bad he appears to be blissfully unaware that the terms are used in direct response to his childishness (which is revealed again in his latest response).

UPDATE - That's all for now, folks. It's just gone 5pm and Manic has places to be and things to do. Besides, Labour headquarters doesn't pay Manic enough to.... Uh-oh.

UPDATE (April 3) - Post #9

Praguetory - Try The Open Sewage Pipe, Watson

Praguetory does not want to bring up the 'Brownite coup' affair (during which his blogging hero outed himself as a total hypocrite and a bastard who will dump his sources in it as and when it suits him). And 'grudge blogging'? FFS. How many posts about Tom Watson yesterday?

UPDATE - Post #10

Praguetory - More Grudge Blogging

Tom again? Really? Oh well, Praguetory did conduct a "Should I blog more about Watson?" poll for his readers (and struggled throughout the afternoon and evening to bring in 10 measly votes).

UPDATE - Post #11

Praguetory - All Good Things Must Come To An End

Translation: "I am running away (again)." Check this post out for the shocking and eye-opening 'chez' connection.

UPDATE - Post #12

Praguetory - Blog Round Up

In which Praguetory says; "Blogging in the style of another blogger is fun for a day, but do it for an extended period could drive you nuts."

Manic has something to say on that subject and a link will appear below shortly:
[link goes here]

UPDATE - Hahahaha! And now he's 'banned' Manic and switched on comment moderation so he can have the last word. What a tool.

Manic has spoken. End communication.